Kenneth Harder didn’t let his Bay High School students get away with much, but they loved him for it.
“He was a very firm teacher, very firm teacher,” said Kelly Bell Robertson, an in-school suspension monitor at Bay High who was a student of Harder’s in the 1980s. “You didn’t get away with anything with Mr. Harder.
“He cared about you. He wanted to make sure you learned what you were supposed to learn while you were in school. I think that’s why he would stay on you, so that you would do right and you would learn.”
Harder, 78, died Oct. 8 — just a little more than one month after learning he had esophageal cancer that had spread, said his wife, Patti Harder.
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She said cards and letters poured in from students after her husband learned he was sick and was hospitalized. One former student, now a retired teacher in Dallas, wrote: “You made me love math. Thank you so much for your dedication to the teaching profession.”
Harder was not your average teacher. He invented math and algebra games to keep his students engaged. Many weekends he spent in his shed working on the games, his wife said.
One was called Equation Rotation. To make the game, he bought a big block of wood and cut it into squares the size of Scrabble pieces. He put equations on the squares and painted them so students would not get splinters in their fingers. Harder patented Equation Rotation.
Texas Instruments wanted to manufacture the game, but he refused to give up the patent, Patti Harder said, because the company did not want to pay.
To teach calculus students about trajectories, he built rockets and took them to class, she said.
The teacher had a sense of humor, too. Sometimes, his students tried to get the best of him. One placed plastic feces in his chair one morning. He saw it, but sat down without saying a word and never let on he’d noticed.
Harder was the same, whether in his classroom or out. His daughter, Page Forrest, said he did not adopt a different persona depending on who he was around. Observing his behavior was a lesson in honesty and integrity for her.
She was, he told her, his favorite daughter. She also happened to be an only child.
Harder taught for 30 years at Bay High. His wife said he was named star teacher four times. He also played the saxophone for years in clubs along the Coast and loved to water ski.
“He spoke the truth,” Patti Harder said. “He told them just how it was. He never sugar-coated anything. He talked to them like they were adults. He would always tell them, you think you don’t need algebra, but algebra is a big part of the world and finding out everything.”
After he retired, Harder continued to hear from students. One of them wrote a book on math and computers, dedicated to his former teacher.
“He thought it was wonderful that people actually remembered him,” she said, “students remembered him.”
In his final days, he enjoyed the letters he received from students still on the Coast and in other parts of the country.
“Some of them made me cry when I read them,” Patti Harder said. “They were just tremendous.”