‘No greater legacy.’ 6 life lessons from beloved science teacher, who died at 52.

Stephen Kreps
  • Stephen Kreps spent decades of his life teaching lessons to generations of children he inspired during his time as a science teacher at Walter Hill School in the Swedesboro-Woolwich school district.

    Even after his death, those lessons carry on.

    On Friday, Mar. 22, the day of an annual teacher-student basketball game that Kreps took part in every year, he suffered a heart attack.

    Students immediately alerted the teachers to his condition, who in turn began to administer CPR. Then, a nurse came in with AED Defibrillator. Paramedics arrived and took Kreps to Inspira-Woodbury.

    He died a few days later at the age of 52.

    These are the lessons his life and legacy leave behind.

    Lesson 1: Make friends, you never know who they might end up being in your life.

    Kreps family moved to Pitman in the early 1970s and at the age of 5, he befriended a young girl in the neighborhood named Melissa. The two quickly became friends and stayed that way throughout their childhood, going to the Christmas dance together — Kreps in his polyester leisure suit and plaid bell-bottom pants. However, at the end of Melissa’s eighth-grade year, her family moved to Germany after her father transferred jobs. Kreps would not see his friend for a very long time.

    Lesson 2: Make the best of a second chance

    It wasn’t long after Melissa’s family returned to Pitman that her friendship with Stephen would rekindle uniquely.

    “His little brother happened to walk by at the exact time we were getting out of our car in the driveway,” Melissa explained. “The first time we went back to our house, we talked to him for a few minutes. Five minutes later, there is Steve nonchalantly walking on the other side of the street bouncing a basketball with his boombox trying to be subtle and act as if it was a coincidence.”

Stephen Kreps
  • Lesson 3: Persistence pays off

    Kreps had to work hard to become a teacher and to stick around in the profession. He started out teaching basic skills for the Penns Grove-Carneys Point Regional School District before being moved to teach first-graders. He then found the job at Walter Hill School where he started teaching basic skills, but then went on to teach fourth grade.

    “That’s where he got in his groove,” said Melissa. “He was there for 11 years and then switched over to sixth grade which he absolutely adored.”

    He would go on to teach various topics such as social studies, language arts, but science is what got him going.

    “What kid doesn’t like magnets and electricity a lot?” said Melissa. “He loved doing the electricity wands that make people’s hair stand up. He was a kid at heart. He loved the weather. He would go out and watch storms and watch the lightning.“

    He also earned the admiration of administrators and faculty.

    “He was so deeply invested in science and he knew how to make real-world connections with the kids so that they could understand it,” said Swedesboro-Woolwich School District Superintendent Kristin O’Neil. “He loved to do experiments and his ability to connect with the kids was incredible.”

Stephen Kreps
  • Lesson 4: Loss is tough, but you have to rally around each other to remain strong

    The day of Kreps heart attack, teachers came in droves to the hospital to find out about his condition.

    He had a full blockage in his artery and had lost too much oxygen to his brain, doctors told Melissa.

    “They indicated that he would never be a teacher again if he woke up,” Melissa said. “He would never walk, talk, or have any cognitive function.”

    Teachers pulled shifts all weekend to show support for Kreps and his family. News of his condition was passed along to family, friends, and colleagues, who all came to the hospital to say their final goodbyes.

    A private and a public service was held. In the days following his death, Melissa said, people reached out to her in person and on social media. Neighbors put out blue, orange and white ribbons on their mailboxes, the colors of the Denver Broncos, his favorite team.

    “I think I hugged almost 605 people during the service, including many of his current students,” Melissa said. “It was absolutely amazing to see the impact my husband had on these people and to know that insecure boy that I knew originally had become such an influential person in these kids lives. I know of several individuals, former students, who became teachers or went into science because of him and there is no greater legacy that could be had.”

     
Stephen Kreps
  • Lesson 5: You can always find a way to help someone, even if you do not know them

    Stephen was an organ donor. His kidneys were donated to two men — one in his 50s, another in his 70s. His corneas and skin (for burn victims) were also donated. Finally, his liver and lungs were donated to what he taught, science.

    As part of his living will, he had requested certain songs to be played before he was taken off a respirator, among of which included ‘Golden Slumbers Medley’ and ‘The Long and Winding Road’ by The Beatles. There was one addition Melissa made to the list — ‘Ain’t No Mountain High Enough’ by Diana Ross which Kreps had recently performed at a school karaoke party and had dedicated to his fellow teachers, Melissa said.

    “They had warned us that it was very common with younger individuals whose hearts were still beating that at times, they would stop and then restart,” Melissa said. “His heart did start beating again as soon as the song ‘Ain’t No Mountain High Enough’ came on and it actually stopped at the end of the song. Right to the end, he was with them.”

    Lesson 6: Positives can be found, even in a negative situation

    Those around Kreps — his wife, children and school family — have had to find a way to carry on.

    “We met several mornings before the day got started after his passing and in every one of those meetings we would say 'Steve would tell us first knock it off, stop crying,” O’Neil said. “The second thing he would say is we are here for the kids, and that is what we need to focus on. That is the most incredible thing I can say about him. “

    O’Neil said that’s just what the teachers have done.

    “The staff, every single one of them, put the needs of the kids above their own. They didn’t miss one day of school. Every single person at the Hill School was present every day because their concern was the kids.”

    “Steve was one of my oldest and dearest friends, we treated each other like siblings,” said Kreps friend and colleague 5th-grade teacher Lorraine Campbell, Kreps’ colleague and longtime friend, said he treated every student as if they were one of his own.

    “He was a loyal friend and a devoted family man and teacher,” she said. “Although he had a rough and tumble exterior, on the inside, he was all teddy bear. He loved his profession with all of his heart.”

    In his memory, Melissa Kreps has established the Stephen C. Kreps Memorial Fund, which will provide a $1,000 college scholarship for a Kingsway Regional High School student who attended Walter Hill School. The scholarship is for students attending a four-year college majoring in education or science.

    Anyone wishing to donate can go to any South Jersey Fulton Bank location and mention the name of the fund.

    Melissa Kreps will be selecting the finalists for the scholarship and will be looking for the students who embodied what her husband stood for.

    “It’s more about the heart and character of the students as opposed to their grades,” she said.