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Mcbride Elementary Mourns Loss of SPS Special Education Teacher 'Mr. Nick'

The final week of school, McBride Elementary teacher Nick Hostler carefully scoped out each activity planned for field day. He wanted to make sure his seven students - who all have special needs - were going to have as much fun as their peers.

On the big day, he ran, jumped and slid alongside each of them.

He was determined that a boy in his class who uses a wheelchair not miss out on the 30-foot slip-and-slide, so Hostler jumped on, wrapped his arms around the boy, and they slid down together.

"That's who he was. He was always looking at how to get his kids to do what other kids can do," said McBride Principal Lael Streight. 

Streight and two of Hostler's co-workers - Brad Wilson and Sally Reader - told that story and shared memories of the beloved second-year teacher, and many others, while gathered Friday at the home of Hostler's parents, Gil and Mary Kay Hostler.

Nick Hostler, who recently turned 35, collapsed after suffering a heart attack Wednesday after working out at CrossFit RTB. He was pronounced dead at Cox South.

Hours earlier, the entire family - including Nick - had gathered at the same hospital to celebrate a new baby. Nick Hostler's newest nephew, Mason, was born on Memorial Day and was to come home Wednesday.

"I feel Nick left a little bit of himself with (Mason)," said Nathan Hostler, 31, one of Nick's two younger brothers. "I want him to carry Nick with him. Nick has a legacy to carry on."

He said his big brother believed in helping others. "He always gave you a chance. He believed in second chances."

Mary Kay Hostler, a counselor at Hillcrest High who retired this year after 31 years, said she captured one photo of Nick Hostler holding his nephew.

"I want him to be remembered as kind, caring and always putting others first," she said.

Nick Hostler, a fitness enthusiast, competed nationally as a gymnast and was a cheerleader at Missouri State University. He later coached gymnastics, cheer and CrossFit.

Jonathan Thornsberry, who owns CrossFit RTB, said people were drawn to Hostler.

"He attracted everybody. He was a radiant personality," he said. "Nick loved people and people loved Nick."

Hostler wanted to be a physical education teacher, but after helping to design a VIP CrossFit program for students with special needs, he found his calling. He started as a teacher aide, or paraprofessional, at Delaware Elementary.

Two years ago, he was hired as the functional skills teacher at McBride Elementary. He referred to students as "my friends."

He made a habit of texting photos of students to their parents and called mom or dad on the weekend to check on the children, especially if they were having a tough time.

On field trips to the Dickerson Park Zoo or Wonders of Wildlife Museum and Aquarium, it wasn't uncommon for him to give piggyback rides to a student who was struggling to keep up. 

"He was the one every day making a difference," said Brian Wilson, a McBride teacher. "But, he was the first one to give you props."

Neil Hostler, Nick's youngest brother, said his brother cheered for others to succeed and was so happy talking about his students.

"He was totally excited and invested in other people's success," he said. "He had this energy. It was contagious."

Jeff Wead, assistant principal at Willard High School, knew Nick through gymnastics and cheerleading. He said Nick had a never-give-up toughness.

"He was always there. It didn't matter what he was going through. It didn't matter what others were struggling with," he said. "He picked himself up and he was there."

At age 5, Hostler started taking gymnastics classes at the Springfield Gymnastics and Aquatics Center.

Darrell Jackson, the owner, was his first coach. "He showed a lot of talent."

Quickly mastering the fundamentals, Hostler graduated to the center's boys team, where he served as a role model. He excelled, especially with floor routines, and competed at the national level.

"He just had a certain style and he was a good performer," Jackson said. "He had high-level skills. He was a very fierce competitor."

He said Hostler suffered an ankle injury during his senior year at Kickapoo High School. No longer able to compete, he continued to work out five times a week.

As a freshman at Missouri State University, Hostler was recruited to be part of the cheer squad. He later served as captain.

Jackson hired Hostler as the head coach of the boy's team, a job he kept for more than six years, and he also coached the center's cheer squad.

"He was a very gifted teacher. He just had a way with kids," he said. "He wasn't one to yell at kids. He was just really patient."

In recent years, despite working full time for the school district, Hostler continued to stop by the center and encourage the young gymnasts. Jackson said Hostler was viewed as "a father figure" by coaches and occasionally taught a class.

He said former students, coaches, teammates and competitors from across Missouri - and neighboring states - are expected to attend the funeral.

"He touched the lives of a lot of people," he said. "He's going to be missed so much. The kids just loved him. I never had a parent complain about Nick."

Streight, the principal, said the experience of working with kids made a huge difference.

"It was this cross between fitness and working with kids that introduced him to his career path in special education," she said.  "...That's when he realized how much he loved mingling the two loves of his life." Hostler recently completed a master's degree.

Streight said the unexpected loss has been deeply felt. "We have just been so shocked and devastated."

On Wednesday evening, she notified McBride families by email. The subject line was "Our Mr. Nick."

"Mr. Hostler had been part of McBride as a functional skills special education teacher for two years and made a huge impact on the lives of our students and families," she wrote. "As we share in grief during this difficult time, please also join us in sharing heartfelt condolences with Mr. Hostler’s family."

The email from Streight included a link to online resources regarding loss designed to help parents share sad news with children.

She said a veteran teacher at McBride celebrated Hostler's contributions this year as part of the "Power of 1" employee recognition program that singles out individuals who go above and beyond.

"Nick lit up a room with his smile and filled his classroom with laughter and praise," she said. "...Nick has touched thousands of lives and this loss leaves our hearts broken."

In Nick Hostler's honor
The CrossFit RTB created a Nick Hostler Memorial Fund to raise money for children with special needs. A memorial workout is planned for 10 a.m. June 9 at CrossFit RTB, 4234 S. Reed Ave. 

Services
Family and friends of Nick Hostler will celebrate his life at Immaculate Conception Church, 3555 S. Fremont Ave. On Sunday, visitation will be from 2 to 5:30 p.m. with a prayer service to follow at 5:30 p.m.

The funeral Mass will be at 10 a.m. Monday at the church.

(Read the original story shared by the Springfield News-Leader here.)


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