John Hough

COLLEGE PLACE — College Place Public Schools lost a beloved teacher this weekend, district officials said.

John Hough, 39, died Saturday from post-surgery complications. His wife of six years, Sara Smart, and mother, Teri, were with him when he died, according to the family.

Hough was a “dynamic” educator at John Sager Middle School, coming on board in 2015 to work in the Learning Assistance Program, including teaching math and English, said district spokeswoman Heidi Wells.

Hough was also a track coach at Sager and College Place High School.

“Mr. Hough’s smiling face and positivity will be greatly missed by our students and staff,” she said.

The district’s crisis-response team has been activated, Wells said Sunday. Grief counselors and additional staff are at the middle and high schools today to provide support to students and staff and will continue throughout the week as needed.

After graduating from Walla Walla High School in 1996, Hough began college expecting to get a business degree, his family said.

“He then decided, about two years in, he wanted to be a history teacher,” Eilin Bowerman said this morning, recalling her nephew’s tremendous love of teaching.

“John was very smart, and people just lit up around him,” she said.

Hough graduated from Washington State University with a degree in history in 2003 and from Heritage University in 2007 with a master’s degree in education.

He worked in Walla Walla Community College’s math department, tutoring at-risk high school students who came there for extra help. He also did long-term substitute teaching at Garrison Middle School, where he coached football, Bowerman said.

“There are so many kids who remember him doing that,” she said. “‘Coach John,’ that’s what all the kids called him.”

Everyone who knew Hough understood how important his students were to him, she said, adding that a Sager Middle School employee told her Hough was the staffer sitting in the commons with students at lunch.

“He was just that teacher,” Bowerman said. “He was kid-oriented, always, and they loved him.”

A service is being planned, Bowerman said.

“We don’t know where it’s going to be yet. It has to be some place to hold all the people who will want to come.”

Sheila Hagar can be reached at sheilahagar@wwub.com or 526-8322.

Sheila Hagar has written for the Walla Walla Union-Bulletin since 1998. Sheila covers health, social services and city government in Milton-Freewater, Athena and Weston in the Walla Walla Valley.