Six decades ago Louis Kokonis began his career as a teacher with ACPS. Now, at 86 years of age, more than twice the age of his fellow teachers, he’s still going strong with no plan to retire anytime soon.
When Kokonis started teaching, The Champ’s “Tequila,” Domenico Modugno’s “Volare,” and Sheb Wooley’s “The Purple People Eater” topped the music charts. He recalls the early days: boys with crew cuts and girls whose skirts had to hit below their knees. Kids flocked to the Hot Shoppes on North Washington Street for burgers and fountain drinks, hung out at the roller rink on Madison and N. St. Asaph, or spent evenings at Tops Drive-In maybe sitting in a winged, turquoise Ford Fairlane.
Our email inboxes were flooded by former students and coworkers this past week wanting to share their stories of “Koko.” Some were physicists, engineers, doctors and professors. All wrote to say what an inspiration their soft-spoken teacher in the chalk-covered suit was.
A cone is only one-third of a cylinder with the same diameter and height.’ Mr. Kokonis brought the lesson home. Describing the soda counter beverages often served at a malt shop in a conical cup and metal base, Kokonis would say, ‘Not only do you get one-third as much soda than you would with a cylindrical glass, but then they fill it with ice as well.’” – John Tate (’63) recalling one of Kokonis’ lessons on the volume of a cone.
Mickey Moore, former ACPS teacher, principal and colleague of Kokonis’ remembers standing with Kokonis on the balcony of T.C. Williams in 1971. It was the first teachers’ meeting of the city’s three integrated high schools. The teachers stood awkwardly in different groups, self-divided according to the schools they came from. Moore and Kokonis were both coming from Hammond to T.C. It was obvious the transition was tough not only for the students but the teachers as well.
Hammond kids didn’t want to go to T.C. George Washington kids didn’t want to go to T.C. … and T.C. kids didn’t want either one there. The teachers seemed to feel the same. We thought integrating the school would never work. It took a while, but eventually it did work,” Moore said.
Although Kokonis was not the typical teacher, his love for math was contagious. He overlooked the boisterous behavior of teenagers and commanded his classroom with such a quiet demeanor and quiet voice that he earned the class’ respect.
Kokonis was no stranger at school events. Former T.C. Williams principal John Porter said, “I will never forget Lou volunteering to chaperone just about every dance we had at T.C. with the one caveat — that he’d have door duty where, for most of the evening, he could grade papers — which he did religiously.”
Teaching math requires a continuous flow of theorems, proofs, equations, and solutions appearing in front of the students as the teacher explains and expounds on method and meaning. Mr. Kokonis was expert at the process, and with chalk flying across the board as he taught, Louie created a white dust cloud in the air greater than any three other Hammond teachers ever produced.” – Dr. D. Cragin Shelton (’67), a chemistry major.
He loved to check to see if people were paying attention with a quick turn and just a random recollection of names in the class to call on. He was quick to celebrate if you clearly knew what was going on, and would move on and repeat what he was going over if a wrong answer was given,” – Blake Alberger (’05), who remembers his teacher’s wild white hair and his sharp eye.
By the first nine weeks, it was clear who was in charge. We strained in our seats to hear his quiet words. No one misbehaved. … he listened to our question because he believed our clear understanding of mathematics might change the world,” – Mary Ames (’65), who still calls him Mr. Kokonis.
Maybe you should rethink that one,” – Cindy Anderson (’80) recalls him saying before he’d accept the papers she was trying to hand in.
I remember your kindness, your unending patience with each of us. You were just as calm and hopeful in the third explanation as in the first. … Your kind hope for me to understand showed on your face as you explained one-on-one to me.” – Andy Meng Whitehouse
Students now know him for his love for spaghetti, Irish/Scottish music, movies with happy endings, and his driving a supply truck in the Army while stationed in Germany. They know he doesn’t have a sweet tooth and can bump into him at Planet Fitness.
It was in his Algebra 2 class that I realized how much I love math and that I wanted to become a high school math teacher. He was there everyday after school until six, like he always is. If I ever needed a place to work his door was always open. He’s not afraid to ask for help from his students and not afraid to make mistakes,” – Elon University freshman Anne Williams (’18), who is pursuing a double major in math and teaching and who credits the three years she had Kokonis for her career track.
Kokonis credits his longevity to his love for teaching and his students. As for retirement? Kokonis says he’s not thinking that far ahead. “I still enjoy teaching and unless something happens, I’m going to try and keep teaching.”
Lou, you’ve made us all proud. You’ve proved that old teachers don’t die,” said Mickey Moore. “They just teach, and teach, and teach.”
Here’s to another decade, Mr. Kokonis!
The Scholarship Fund of Alexandria is excited to announce that the Alexandria community will come together on January 11, 2019 to salute Mr. Kokonis at a reception in his honor to launch the “Louis Kokonis Teaching Legend Scholarship.”