OGDEN — A beloved Ogden High School teacher who died over the weekend is being remembered by friends, colleagues and students as a caring, inspiring educator.
Clay Christensen, 40, died Saturday, Feb. 18, just seven months after being diagnosed with colon cancer. The health sciences teacher worked at the school for 12 years and taught a variety of classes during his time there, including anatomy, medical terminology, biology and chemistry.
Up until his diagnosis, Christensen served as department chairman of career and technical education, as well as advisor for the student club Health Occupations Students of America. On top of that, his obituary says he helped coach football, served as a student body advisor, took on the role of science department chairman and coached Academic Olympiad students.
However, his impact went far beyond his long list of roles at the school. Students and teachers alike said Christensen’s energetic, caring nature — as well as his enthusiasm — touched hundreds of lives, expanded the school’s health science curriculum and encouraged kids to pursue medical studies.
Kelsey Trudeau, a senior at Ogden High School, said Christensen was the type of teacher who made students want to be in his classes. Last spring, she and other students specifically signed up for Christensen’s courses, which had to be taught by other teachers after his diagnosis.
“We wanted to have him and the reason we couldn’t was really heartbreaking,” Trudeau said.
After finding out about Christensen’s illness, Trudeau started a GoFundMe page for him and his family. As of Monday night, it had raised $5,500.
“He has a really big heart,” said Trudeau. “He cares a lot for his students. You know he cares just by how he interacts with students.”
Story continues below photo.
Brent Richardson, a fellow teacher, said he was impressed by Christensen’s ability to reach out to kids. His relationships with students were built on trust, Richardson said.
“He would talk to kids about anything, even if it wasn’t school related ... He quite enjoyed teaching. He had a knack for it,” Richardson said.
Richardson and Christensen became good friends while teaching in the same department. They had the same kids from year to year, and developed a strong health science program together, he said.
“We were excited we were having kids who could take our classes and then go on and be involved in health care,” Richardson said.
Part of Christensen’s teaching talent came from his large-than-life personality, Ogden High business teacher Lucille Brizzee said. In fact, district officials sometimes taped Christensen’s classes so others could emulate his fun, motivational teaching style.
“He was a lot of fun,” Brizzee said. “His personality was so big, you couldn’t miss seeing or hearing him.”
Christensen had a talent for pushing students to succeed, Brizzee said. It’s a trait that not only led some of his HOSA competition students to nationals, but encouraged struggling kids to do their best.
Jake Lower, 23, was Christensen’s nephew, as well as one of his former students. He said his uncle rewarded kids who gave it their all. He didn’t give his students free passes.
“Some people skate through high school and don’t try as hard as they need to, but Mr. Christensen held them to a higher standard,” Lower said.
Lower said his uncle taught him the value of hard work, education and striving for a better life. And he’s not the only one — Lower’s wife, 20-year-old Madison White Lower, said her career path has been influenced by Christensen.
Madison White Lower is working to become a nurse and stayed in the medical field because of Christensen’s example.
“He’s definitely one of the reasons I want to become a nurse,” she said. “He made (classes) fun and enjoyable. He really made you love to learn. I know a lot of students feel the same way.”
Brizzee said Ogden High School’s students and faculty will miss Christensen and the impact he made there. “He cared about all of us,” she said.
“He was definitely a giant of a man,” Jake Lower said. “He will be greatly missed.”
Two viewings will be held for Christensen. One will take place between 6 and 8 p.m. Friday, Feb. 24, at Rogers & Taylor Funeral Home, 111 N. 100 East in Tremonton. The other will be from 9 to 10:30 a.m. Saturday, Feb. 25, at the Tremonton South Stake Center, 1150 S. Tremont St.
Christensen’s funeral will start at 11 a.m. Saturday at the Tremonton South Stake Center.
[photouncropped=Clay Christensen with fellow teachers]