ELIZABETHTON, Tenn. (WJHL) Area educators are remembering a man who had a huge impact on their careers and their students.
Former East Side principal Dr. Josh Wandell died Saturday, after being diagnosed with ALS for the last seven years, also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease.
PREVIOUS STORY: Dr. Josh Wandell on life 3 years after ALS diagnosis
He died at the age of 41.
After his ALS diagnosis, Dr. Wandell was very public about his health battle and his life, leading by the motto of “Faith Over Fear.”
Dr. Wandell is being remembered for the difference he made in the lives of countless students.
“Dr. Wandell had a huge passion for education and for his students, whether it was going in the cafeteria, opening up their ketchup packets, and just making sure they were having a great day,” Ashley Estep said.
Ashley Estep is a pre-k teacher at the Wandell Early Learning Center (WELC).
The center was named in Dr. Wandell’s honor, in 2017.
“A lot of times, I think people search their whole lives wondering what they’re supposed to do with their lives, but there’s two individuals that I can guarantee you have never had to search for what they’re supposed to do and that would be Josh Wandell and myself,” Travis Hurley said.
Dr. Wandell was the principal of East Side Elementary School from 2007 to 2015. During his eight years as principal, Dr. Wandell pushed for teachers to make education fun for their students.
Sara Dunford explained, “He kind of breathed new life into East Side and he brought a lot of enthusiasm and really wanted us to focus on loving the kids and at the same time, making sure that education is a priority to them.”
Sara Dunford is a first grade teacher at East Side Elementary School.
When ALS caused Dr. Wandell to leave his post, he called on his longtime friend, Hurley to take over, in 2015.
Hurley knew he had big shoes to fill and trusted his friend about the decision.
“Now I can’t text him anymore, to say, ‘What have you done to me?’ when crazy things happen at school,” Hurley joked. “For five years in a row, he and I would be able to have that conversation.”
Hurley said it is hard to believe his friend is gone, but now knows he gained an angel to look over him and the students who were once his.
“It’s hard to… it’s hard to explain who he really was,” Hurley said as he tried to hold back tears. “It’s just the impact that he made everyday.”
Principal Hurley said students will continue the tradition of having Wednesdays serve as “Wandell Wednesday’s”. It is a day for students and faculty to honor him by wearing “Race for Wandell” t-shirts or wear Dr. Wandell’s favorite sport teams, which includes the Tennessee Vols, the Baltimore Ravens, New York Yankees and the North Carolina Heels.
Friends told us a celebration of life service will be held to honor Dr. Josh Wandell this Friday, Feb. 21 It will take place at Elizabethton High School, Dr. Wandell’s Alma mater, from 4:30 p.m. until 7:30 p.m.