Remembering Chuck Haibel

Haibel drives a boat and looks across the water. At his Celebration of Life ceremony, his favorite songs, consisting of primarily Jimmy Buffet, were played in his memory.
Haibel drives a boat and looks across the water. At his Celebration of Life ceremony, his favorite songs, consisting of primarily Jimmy Buffet, were played in his memory.
photo by Kirsten Haibel
Charles+Chuck+Haibels+yearbook+photo+for+the+2023-2024+school+year.+Haibel+taught+computer+science+courses+for+the+last+two+years+at+Hagerty+before+his+sudden+passing%2C+announced+on+Jan.+20.
Charles “Chuck” Haibel’s yearbook photo for the 2023-2024 school year. Haibel taught computer science courses for the last two years at Hagerty before his sudden passing, announced on Jan. 20. (photo by Kirsten Haibel)

Programming fanatic. 

Dog lover. 

Veteran. 

Mentor. 

Handyman. 

Husband. 

Father. 

Teacher.

These are just some of the roles Charles “Chuck” Haibel played in his 75 years of life. 

Arriving at Hagerty two years ago, Haibel began his teaching career in AP Computer Science and Computer Science Principles classes after a long career as an account executive for healthcare software. Working with software both in sales and as an instructor for night classes in programming at Sanford Middle School, Haibel was a lifelong learner and connoisseur of computer programming—a skill most would not associate with his age demographic. To most, he was an easy-going, friendly face on campus, but to those who really knew him, he was a demonstration of kindness and curiosity.

“We were taking our third quarter exam and I sat at the desk closest to his. I looked up at him and he was just eating the biggest bag of animal crackers. I sort of laughed at him. He looked at me and silently held out the bag behind his computer. I was like ‘Can I take one?’ I got an animal cracker and passed the exam,” senior Ivy Browning, who took Haibel’s AP Computer Science course last year, said.

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The announcement
Haibel+poses+with+his+John+Deere.+This+photo+was+displayed+at+Haibels+Celebration+of+Life+ceremony+on+Jan.+27.
Haibel poses with his John Deere. This photo was displayed at Haibel’s Celebration of Life ceremony on Jan. 27. (photo by Kirsten Haibel)

Principal Robert Frasca sent an email notifying students, staff and parents of Haibel’s passing on Jan. 20, and the community shared in the confusion and shock. For senior Aidan Priore, who took Haibel’s Computer Science Principles class sophomore year, Haibel was more than a teacher. In addition to teaching, Haibel acted as the sponsor for the Programming Club, which Priore runs as president. Priore, who met with Haibel at least once a week after school with the Programming Club, recalled emailing him up to the day before Frasca sent out the announcement.

So, when Priore learned of Haibel’s passing the next day while driving on the highway, his anxiety “went through the roof.”

“Honestly, I didn’t think that it existed or really happened. [I thought] I heard it wrong,” Priore said. “Even when I made an announcement to the Programming Club, I had to recheck to make sure I wasn’t going crazy.”

Like Priore, Frasca was informed of Haibel’s passing by the SCPS Assistant Superintendent of High Schools at an unfortunate time, as he walked into the school theater program’s spring production.

It is hard to lose someone on campus. As a principal, I also had a million things running through my mind as I was trying to figure out all of the things that I would need to do to prepare my campus and community for the news,” Frasca said.

Dealing with the loss of a colleague is difficult, but the added responsibilities of leading a campus in grief can be even more challenging. For Frasca, he tried to keep his focus on the staff members and students who would need his support.

Honestly, I didn’t think that it existed or really happened. [I thought] I heard it wrong.

— Aidan Priore, Programming Club president and former student

“This is the first time that I have had to deal with the loss of a staff member. Unfortunately, one of my responsibilities as principal is to lead through a crisis. I try to be the calmest person in the room. I have relied on my leadership team and the support from multiple schools in SCPS as I prepared my campus for this loss,” Frasca said. “My goal was to do the best that I could. There isn’t really a playbook for this kind of thing because every situation is unique. Hopefully, this is something that I will never have to do again.”

For Daniel Conybear, who previously taught AP Computer Science, the news of Haibel’s passing hit hard. Like Frasca, he has had to push through his own grief to continue leading his AP Statistics and AP Pre-calculus courses, which is no easy task.

“The last week has been tough. [My students] saw me affected, and I saw them affected by it,” Conybear said. “The kids here are great, they were really good at understanding.”

Conybear opened Frasca’s announcement after receiving a concerning message from another colleague. Surrounded by his own family in his living room, the message in the email was the last thing he expected to read.

“I was glad I was sitting down [when I found out.] I was just shocked,” Conybear said.

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Defining qualities
Haibel+points+at+his+Thanksgiving+turkey+in+his+Make+America+Grill+Again+apron.+Haibel+had+a+strong+relationship+with+his+family+as+a+husband+and+father.
Haibel points at his Thanksgiving turkey in his “Make America Grill Again” apron. Haibel had a strong relationship with his family as a husband and father. (photo by Kirsten Haibel)

Conybear first met Haibel a few years ago at his night classes on programming. Taking the course to earn certification to teach computer science, Conybear saw Haibel as an “honest and humble” guide when learning the material. A couple of years later, Conybear reconnected with Haibel as he began his career at Hagerty, where Haibel taught him more than technological instruction.

“Sometimes you focus on the negatives and complain about little stuff that really doesn’t matter that much. But he was never that way,” Conybear said. “He always smiled and was always good to sit and tell stories with.”

Over the time Conybear spent working with Haibel, he recalls one moment in particular that showed Haibel’s compassionate character and empathy, which was evident both in and outside of the classroom. 

“I remember talking to Chuck at the beginning of the [school] year. [One of his daughters] was at UCF and she had a dog that got hit by a car and was hurt badly. They didn’t want to put the dog down, but the cost [of surgery] was many thousands of dollars. Chuck didn’t bat an eye and said ‘We’re going to do it.’ He wanted his daughter to have companionship; it showed how empathetic and caring he was,” Conybear said.

According to Priore, Haibel was a constant force of positivity, going beyond his other teachers in support and recognition.

Sometimes you focus on the negatives and complain about little stuff that really doesn’t matter that much. But he was never that way.

— Daniel Conybear, teacher and colleague

“At the end of curriculum night last year, he emailed all five of us who helped him out, giving each of us a compliment. I’ve never seen a teacher go out of their way to compliment, let alone every single person,” Priore said. “[The compliment] he told me was ‘Thank you Aidan for always having a gaggle of girls around, we need more women in the community.’ Not only had I never heard anyone use the term ‘gaggle,’ but he made me feel like such a player. Now, my friends and I keep using the term gaggle.”

ESE Counselor Erin Isaacs, whose office is across the hall from his old classroom, also recalls Haibel’s warm demeanor and positive attitude. 

“He was a good human. He wanted the kids to know what programming was, he wanted them to understand the concepts and he wanted them to be successful. I think for that alone, he was very impactful with our kids here,” Isaacs said.

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Campus support
Haibels+military+service+flag%2C+U.S.+Verteran+hat+and+a+photo+of+him+on+a+boat+sit+on+the+welcome+table+for+his+Celebration+of+Life+service.+Haibels+memories+with+his+family+and+friends+were+shared+at+the+event+through+photos+and+storytelling.
Haibel’s military service flag, U.S. Verteran hat and a photo of him on a boat sit on the welcome table for his Celebration of Life service. Haibel’s memories with his family and friends were shared at the event through photos and storytelling. (photo by Nadia Knoblauch)

Unlike other staff members, Isaacs knew Haibel outside of the classroom. Since 2010, Isaccs has been close friends with Haibel’s wife, who she worked with at Jackson Heights Middle School. Isaacs also worked as the guidance counselor for both of Haibel’s younger children when they came through Hagerty, so the news left her in shock.

“A lot of people here didn’t know my relationship with [the family,] so [the news] was hard to take,” Isaacs said.

As Isaacs had a personal connection to the Haibel family, she acted as the liaison between the family and Hagerty. After Haibel’s wife reached out to Isaacs about holding a memorial service on campus, she and Frasca got straight to work with the PTSA. Two days later, Haibel’s celebration of life ceremony was planned to be held in the media center on Jan. 27 from 5-7 p.m. Dressed in Hagerty blue, family, friends, colleagues and students shared memories and reflected on Haibel’s life at the ceremony, where his brother-in-law, daughter, Frasca and JROTC shared the impacts he left on others.

“The family wanted it light and airy as something to show his amazing life. To show how much of an impact he had on all these people, whether that’s in the community or his own family. To celebrate his awesomeness,” Isaacs said.

At the front of the media center, a sign-in table was decorated with photos of Haibel driving a boat, smiling next to his John Deere and a collection of military flags from his classroom. In addition to his careers in software and education, Haibel was a Vietnam War Veteran, serving from 1968-1970. After serving as a water filtration specialist for his unit, Haibel volunteered for another tour with the army so that his brother would not have to go—an act of love and bravery. 

A lot of my job is helping them in that moment know that there is no right or wrong way to grieve. Normalizing it is the most important thing to do.

— James Bartlett, SCPS mental health counselor

In addition to the celebration of life service as an outlet for students and staff to share in their grief, county grief counselors were available to all on campus for the first two days back at school after Haibel’s passing. According to campus mental health counselor James Bartlett, dealing with campus losses can result in complicated grief, where someone passes unexpectedly with no time for emotional preparation. As an SCPS counselor, Bartlett has dealt with similar tragedies at other schools, noting that his main focus in these situations is to be present with those affected and assist them in understanding their grieving processes.

“I’m not specialized in grief, but I do understand it. The main goal is to help them process what they are feeling,” Bartlett said. “A lot of my job is helping them in that moment know that there is no right or wrong way to grieve. Normalizing it is the most important thing to do.”

Haibel’s impact on Hagerty students and staff will not be forgotten. His love for his family, encouragement for his students and humility in his work should serve as a constant example for those on campus and beyond. 

“He was always willing to learn. That was one thing that was great about him, he was teaching you and you could discover something new and have a conversation with him about it,” Priore said. “I think that’s really unique.”

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