Who We Lost KY: Remembering ‘Mr. C’ – Story About Matt Cockrell
WUKY collaborates with Martha Greenwald, creator and curator of “Who we lost KY” a writing project where friends and families who have lost loved ones to the pandemic pay homage and, in some cases, say their final farewells. Today’s essay is written by Michael Collins and is part of Project WhoWeLost’s collaboration with reporting students at Western Kentucky University. Tom Powell reads.
Shelby County art teacher, golden coach: legacy continues after COVID-19 death
Matt “Mr. C” Cockrell was not a typical high school teacher. It made sense that the rooms around her classroom in the art wing of Martha Layne Collins High School weren’t typical either.
The walls are painted with work designed by students and supervised by Cockrell for years before he died of a month-long battle with COVID-19 on September 19, 2021.
“He just started taking his kids into the room and painting,” said Nate Jebsen, current manager of Martha Layne Collins. “I don’t think he had the permission of the former headmaster. Eventually, they got the right clearance and kept expanding and expanding. “
Cockrell and his students designed murals depicting abstract shapes, landscape scenes, quirky characters, and school badges.
“He wanted his class to be like nothing he had growing up,” Jebsen said. “[His classes] were very loud, a lot of people were talking, but everyone is engaged in their work and he is just checking them out and training them.
His skills and teaching philosophy have earned him the 2019 Kentucky Art Education Association High School Art Educator Award.
“It’s a big, smelly business, but he wasn’t the type to boast about it unnecessarily,” Jebsen said. “He was always pushing the boundaries of what could be done in the classroom.”
Cockrell hosted an art exhibit in February 2020 at Science Hill in Shelbyville for students to showcase their art to the community.
Gracie Scrogham, a 2021 high school graduate and Cockrell alumnus, said the show was a fun opportunity to connect with classmates and that Cockrell never made art a job.
“Most of the time, an art teacher is just like ‘okay, trace your hand and paint it’, but he actually had more in-depth homework for us, and I really enjoyed that,” Scrogham said.
Cockrell often combined his love of national parks into homework, allowing students to recreate photos he had taken while visiting parks during summers. Scrogham painted several pieces based on Cockrell’s images during the three years he taught her.
“I have a watercolor on the wall of my dormitory [from his class]”Scrogham said.” I put it on after hearing about his passing because I loved painting this picture so much. “
Pieces from Cockrell’s class were showcased by the National Parks Conservation Association in June 2019 to educate students about protecting the environment through art.
“I loved being able to go through all of those photos and tell him about national parks and things like that,” Scrogham said.
Mr. C was not Cockrell’s only nickname; “Coach C” took over when he stepped onto the green to lead the Martha Layne Collins High School Girls’ Golf Team.
Rylee Suttor, a 2019 high school graduate and former Lady Titan golfer, said Cockrell was a big contributor to her success in high school.
“It really cheered me up when I was on the golf course or had a bad hole,” Suttor said. “Golf is so mental. You have to be in a good mood all the time, and I think he really did that for all of his players in high school.
Suttor said what stood out in Cockrell was his ability to stay happy even during difficult times.
“He was very happy the whole time, I don’t think I ever saw Coach C really depressed,” Suttor said. “I think even when he had COVID he was still happy and always on the lookout for others. “
Suttor said Cockrell was the kind of person who would like others to use his passing as a time of personal growth and remembrance.
“I think he would like people to think things over and be in a good mood,” Suttor said. “I do not consider his passing a good thing, but we can learn from his experiences and move forward.”