A Life: Jon Ceylon Orvis, 1940 — 2019; ‘He had great fun coaching kids’

  • Stevens coach Jon Orvis discusses defensive strategy with linebacker Stan LaCroix during a third quarter time out. The Cardinal defense was unable to stop Exeter's big offensive backfield on three long drives, as Stevens dropped a 21-14 decision in Claremont, N.H., on Oct. 21, 1978. (Valley News - Gil Williamson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Jon Orvis in an undated photograph.He taught shop at Claremont Junior High (later the middle school) for 34 years. (Family photograph)

Valley News Correspondent
Published: 10/27/2019 9:47:54 PM

CLAREMONT — Earning the respect and keeping control of junior high school students might be one of the top challenges in the teaching profession.

Jon Orvis, who taught shop at Claremont Junior High (later the middle school) for 34 years, more than met that challenge with the hundreds of students who passed through his classroom over the years.

Orvis was also a much beloved football coach for Stevens High School in the 1970s and one of the founders, along with his former student and player, Dan Poisson, of the pee wee football league in Claremont that drew kids from surrounding towns and evolved into the current program run by the recreation department.

Poisson recalled how in the early 1990s, when the high school team was going through a stretch of terrible seasons, sometimes without a win, he feared the school district would shut down the program altogether.

“I told someone, ‘We need to start a pee wee league as a feeder or Stevens football will fold,’ ” Poisson said in a phone interview from his home in Hilton Head, S.C.

Poisson decided to recruit his former coach to help him.

“He said, ‘Let’s do it.’ He didn’t hesitate,” Poisson said. “Jon saw a need, he had the time and he loved football. But it was really because he just loved kids so much.”

The two put up about $15,000 of their own money, held raffles and did other fundraising to buy equipment and get the program, which drew about 100 kids to four teams, off the ground.

There was no effort to make the games overly competitive, and the main rule was that every kid played, Poisson added. The duo ran it for seven years.

Orvis died Aug. 7 at age 79 in Newport, Vt., after a battle with leukemia. He is remembered as a well-respected teacher and coach with a somewhat zany sense of humor and a laid-back attitude toward life, but he could be a taskmaster when necessary.

Poisson said in the classroom Orvis was comfortable clowning around with his students, but they knew when he was serious.

“He was one of those guys who had a great sense of humor but if he told you to do something, you did it,” Poisson said.

On occasion, “a big ol’ rubber eraser” would fly through the air toward a student who was not paying proper attention.

“He knew to cut it out and we all laughed,” said Poisson. “Jon was respected by everyone.”

Orvis was born in 1940 and raised in Middlebury, Vt., with his five brothers and one sister. His father was a car salesman and his mother worked in a hospital.

“They were a hardworking family and all the kids had paper routes growing up,” said his wife, Vickie (Stone), who is from Claremont but today lives in Newport, Vt. Orvis graduated in 1958 from Middlebury High School, where he played football, and earned a scholarship to Keene Teachers College (later Keene State) where he graduated in 1962 with a teaching degree.

He and Vickie met in college and were married in 1963, and Orvis taught in the Vermont school districts of Arlington (for three years) and Fair Haven (one year) to satisfy the requirements of his scholarship before coming to Claremont in 1966, where his wife’s family owned businesses including the Tumble Inn Diner. The couple raised two children, Kathleen and Scott.

“He loved middle-school kids,” said Vickie. “They thought they knew it all and their parents knew nothing, and he would just sit back and laugh.”

Another close friend of Jon and Vickie was Margaret DeLorenzo, of Charlestown. She witnessed Orvis’ dedication to mentoring kids, even the unruly ones.

“He had the patience of Job,” DeLorenzo said. “He had great fun coaching kids and they really admired him. Quite a few those kids were at the wake.”

One of his colleagues in those early days was Daryl Royce, a math teacher who today lives in Charlestown.

“He was a terrific friend,” said Royce. “If it had not been for Jon, I would not have lasted one year, let alone 25.”

Royce had more than a few stories of Orvis’ sometimes wacky sense of humor. Known for his vast collection of ties, Royce was teaching one day when Orvis walked in, loudly announced to all he did not like his colleague’s tie and proceeded to take out some scissors and cut it off, a prank the two had planned together.

“The kids just stared. They did not know it was a joke,” Royce said.

Royce also saw the disciplinarian in Orvis.

“He didn’t have to threaten them. The kids just knew that whatever he did he was doing it for their own good,” Royce said.

Middle school colleague Mike Cirre saw in Orvis a teacher who could get the most out of all students in his shop class.

“Some kids had difficult challenges, and he helped them realize they could make things,” Cirre said.

“Jon was one of the first to greet me at CMS when I started in 1988,” Cirre wrote in an online posting after Orvis’ death. “His wit and humor helped me to fit into the faculty. He was an absolute treasure.”

Orvis’ daughter, Kathleen Pecue of Derby, Vt., remembers well her father’s love of all his students and players. He held that deep inside, and it was not something that surfaced just when he was teaching or coaching.

“My father always used to say, ‘Oh, I dread the first day of school after Christmas vacation.’ He could tell who had a nice Christmas with their new clothes and other stuff and he knew who didn’t. He could see it and it really bothered him.

“He was about helping kids that struggled. I’d bet if there were a person lacking a piece of equipment (for football) my father would have bought it for him.

“He was no different in the classroom. He would not allow a kid to be made fun of because he may not have a notebook or something else.”

Vickie Orvis said her husband knew what sports meant to a lot of kids.

“He worked very hard for kids involved in sports because it was an outlet for them,” she said.

Another student and later football player was Jeff McGuire, a classmate of Poisson’s who went on to coach baseball at Stevens.

“He was a great motivator,” McGuire said. “He just seemed to be able to communicate with the kids on their level. He was not screamer and we appreciated that. Everybody respected Jon.”

Poisson recalled Orvis’ reaction when his end-zone fumble late in a game against a powerhouse Laconia team sealed the opponents’ win.

“He was the first guy to come over to me. He gave me a hug. He didn’t scream at me,” Poisson said. “That is who he was.”

Orvis was an assistant coach and later head coach in the 1970s. His work on behalf of kids extended beyond the ball field and classroom to membership in the Claremont Elks Club, Jaycees and Claremont Lions Club, where he worked tirelessly on fundraising for student scholarship programs. In 1969, Orvis was honored as the “outstanding young educator” at the junior high.

Pecue said her dad was much the same way with his family as he was with students and colleagues; always looking to teach and encourage, with a dose of comedy.

“My dad carried a lot of wisdom. He was always teaching us something,” she said, recalling vacations to Cape Cod. “And a lot what he said was with that humor.”

As his health continued to deteriorate and the leukemia zapped his strength, Pecue said her father remained cheerful.

“Even through some tough procedures, he always kept his humor with the doctors and nurses,” she said.

Pecue said she is particularly gratified to hear from so many about her dad’s devotion to all kids, not just the smartest or most talented.

“He would teach the whole class and the whole team,” she said. “He was such a good soul.”

Patrick O’Grady can be reached at pogclmt@gmail.com




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