NAUGATUCK — The Naugatuck public schools system is remembering a beloved special education teacher who served for more than two decades.
Verne “Chip” Aldrich died over the weekend after a brief illness, according to Naugatuck school officials. He was 58.
Aldrich taught in several local schools and worked as a technology coordinator for the district, helping students with special needs get access to technology. His expertise in this area helped hundreds of students, according to local teachers and administrators.
Aldrich was teaching at Naugatuck High School, where his primary subject area was math.
On Sunday, several high school staff and district officials met at the high school to grieve and share stories about the man they referred to as a funny prankster who put students first and was rarely seen without a smile.
“Chip had a great sense of humor, a contagious smile and a huge heart,” said Laura Cyr, director of special services for the district. “He would do anything that was asked of him and do it well. His passing is a devastating loss to our school community, and his absence will be felt by the students, parents and staff with whom he formed solid and lasting relationships.”
Cyr, who worked in classrooms alongside Aldrich before becoming a district supervisor, said she would frequently go to him for advice because she knew it would always be solid and in the best interest of students.
On Sunday, she said, former students reached out to the staff to speak about how much Aldrich had helped them.
“There were a lot of tears (Sunday), but also a lot of laughter because he was quite a character who brought out the best in people,” she said. “We know he would want us to celebrate his life and not to mourn it.”
One of Aldrich’s former students, Emily Bottinick, now a freshman at Naugatuck Valley Community College in Waterbury, said Aldrich guided her parents through the special education process when she entered the school district.
“He was a wealth of knowledge for them,” Bottinick said. “Even though I only had him as a teacher my senior year, he always helped me with technology that made my life easier in the academic world throughout the years.”
She said she had Aldrich for math last year, her senior year, and that he always made it interesting, even though she traditionally struggled in the subject.
“He was really patient and taught me perseverance. I might not have attended college without his encouragement,” Bottinick said. “He always would help me with anything I needed. He was one of the best teachers I ever had. He had an amazingly fun sense of humor. When you looked at him, his eyes were always smiling.”
Naugatuck High School Principal Janice Saam said many students struggle with math but Aldrich made it fun.
“He loved it, and he always made it look easy,” she said. “He always made the students feel comfortable; they would say, ‘I can do this with Mr. Aldrich’s help.’”
Aldrich, who lived in Prospect, leaves a wife, Sharon, an adult son, Douglas, and teenage son, Gregory. As of Sunday night, services had not been made public.
Calling hours will be held at St. Anthony Roman Catholic Church in Prospect on Thursday, from 5 to 8 p.m. A funeral mass will be held on Friday at 10 a.m. at the church. Burial at Riverview Cemetery in Shelton will be at the convenience of the family.
Naugatuck High School is providing counseling services to students, faculty and staff on Monday.