‘A friend to everybody’: Monona Grove High School students hold memorial for late teacher, tennis coach Charles Pyng

MONONA, Wis. — The past two weeks have been tough on students, teachers, and staff in Monona Grove schools, but on Wednesday they took time to grieve and heal following the sudden death of beloved teacher and coach Charles Pyng earlier this month.

“He was just this guy who was like a teacher but also just like a friend to everybody,” senior class officer Leela Peterson said.

A friend to everybody is perhaps the best way to describe Pyng. Plenty of students expressed that in written signs and messages since his death on Sept. 15 after collapsing at a tennis match. 

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A common theme in students’ messages: “you made my day,” or “you made my year” when they had his class.  

“I was new to the high school my freshman year and honestly, I would say that he was one of the first teachers that like made me truly feel that like this was the place that I needed to stay,” Peterson said.

Memories like those covered a gallery walk at Pyng’s memorial at Monona Grove High School Wednesday – a memorial organized entirely by students.  

“One of our sophomore class officers reached out to the four of us and kind of just said ‘Hey, we kind of want to put together something for like the students to just memorialize this,’” Peterson said. “We have some student speakers from our Asian club and Boys Tennis Club which were clubs that he actually advised.”  

“We have the Chocolate Shoppe coming here because ice cream was like his favorite thing,” she said, “and they’re going to be selling ice cream here and 50% of the proceeds are going to his family which is really neat.”  

Pyng’s funeral service was private, and students felt needed their own space to grieve and remember the art teacher and tennis coach.

“It’s been a lot of events. A lot of people are in different stages of mourning processes,” Peterson said. “But a lot of people are slowly starting to accept it and a lot of us just want to make sure that he was remembered to be the amazing person that he was.”   

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Peterson reminisced how the safe space Mr. Pyng would create in classrooms helped start her high school career on a high note four years ago.  

“I remember every single day I’d show up, he’d give me a piece of like gum and he’d play music and he was just so friendly especially, like, to this freshman who didn’t have any friends at that point,” Peterson said.  

Now even though he’s not with them in the halls anymore, it’s his kind smile and the love it brought that, as one student wrote, “will be missed forever.”  

“He always did his best to connect with every single student in his class and that really sticks out to me a lot,” Peterson said.