By KENT FISCHER
NEW PORT RICHEY — Tom Dale was well-known around Gulf High School as a straight-talking science teacher who expected a lot from his students. He also gave a lot in return.
Most notable were the “Dale Dollars,” which he handed out to kids after spying them performing good deeds. At the end of the semester, students could redeem their Dale Dollars for bonus points and small rewards.
But what he gave most was his time.
Mr. Dale was the “unofficial” sponsor of Gulf’s “unofficial” science club, a loose cadre of kids who liked hanging out in his classroom. He undertook a project with one of his students to refurbish donated computers to create a new student computer lab. And his goofy science projects were celebrated among the kids.
Mr. Dale died at his home Wednesday night (Sept. 4, 2002) of a sudden and massive heart attack. He was 50.
“He was the kind of guy who was there for everybody,” teacher Bob Evans said. “He was a serious teacher, and one of the best. He cared for the kids like they were his own.”
It was a sentiment echoed after teachers and students heard the news of his death Thursday.
“He almost always had a kid that he took under his wing, and would be like a father figure to him,” teacher Doug Stobbs said. “He was one of the most intelligent people around here.”
Under Mr. Dale’s guidance, students built cars powered by mouse traps and constructed marshmallow-slinging catapults. They dropped eggs from great heights and blew up stuffed Easter bunnies, all in the name of science.
In a 1999 interview with the Times, Mr. Dale said those types of experiments captivate students and spark an interest in the sciences. Too many of today’s teachers have given up on those whiz-bang projects, he lamented.
“They’ve taken all the fun out of science,” he said. “They’ve taken away everything that goes “boom!’ ”
Mr. Dale’s wife, Linda, also teaches science at Gulf. Their classrooms adjoined each other’s along the school’s corridor of science labs.
In addition to his wife, Mr. Dale is survived by two daughters, Christina and Rebecca; and a son, Eric. All three are Gulf High graduates. Survivors also include a brother, Ronald Dale, of Reading, Penn.; and a sister, Kathy Leberknight, of Edenville, Penn.
Funeral arrangements are being handled by Michels and Lundquist Funeral Home, Trouble Creek Road, New Port Richey.
Mr. Dale joined Gulf’s faculty in 1993 after a 20-year career in the Navy. He served in Vietnam and retired as a radioman senior chief. He also taught middle school for a year in Virginia before coming to Florida.
Although Mr. Dale was known as being one of Gulf’s tougher teachers, he didn’t hesitate to share his funny side with colleagues.
“He made you look forward to coming into work each day because you knew he would lift your spirits,” Stobbs said. “He made you laugh.”
Added Evans: “Our hallways feel very empty today.”