The unassuming Lake Stevens High School history teacher had much more than an endearing image to offer, though. During 20 years at the school, his classroom skills won him the respect of pupils and fellow educators alike. He started advanced placement classes in U.S. and art history.
Students flocked to his courses, and Talley repaid them with study sessions before and after school, even on weekends. He also was a welcome fixture rooting for the Lake Stevens Vikings at sporting events -- tennis, football, soccer, track and cross country, among others.
The Lake Stevens community is in mourning following Talley's unexpected death last week. He had been preparing for a National Honor Society ceremony at school Wednesday when he suffered a brain aneurysm, school district officials said. He was rushed to Providence Regional Medical Center Everett, and then to a Seattle hospital, where he died Thursday evening.
He was 61.
"He was a very smart man," said Ken Collins, a Lake Stevens School District assistant superintendent. "His students would call him brilliant, and that's probably not far from the truth."
Faculty and students have planned a memorial service for 6:30 p.m. Tuesday at the school gymnasium. Expected speakers include former students, including one member of the Class of 2000 who plans to fly in from New York City, where he works as an attorney.
A Facebook page honoring Talley has drawn steady traffic. The Lake Stevens School District wesbsite also posted a story about Talley written by district spokeswoman Arlene Hulten.
"He was obviously an amazing person and it's just extremely difficult," Hulten said.
Talley, who was not married, had no immediate family in the area aside from a cousin, Hulten said. He is survived by his mother in South Dakota, as well as a brother and a sister.
He had grown up in the Mount Rushmore State and earned a bachelor's degree in economics from South Dakota State University. He later earned another bachelor's degree, in history, and a teaching certificate from the University of Washington. He taught at Yelm High School before arriving in Lake Stevens.
Collins said he got to know Talley while they taught in next-door classrooms for more than a decade. Later, when Collins became the school's principal, he marveled at his friend and colleague's preparedness and punctuality. Both early risers, Collins said they would often arrive at school around the same time -- even though Collins lived nearby and Talley commuted from Seattle's Greenlake neighborhood.
"You're talking about a guy who dedicated everything to his students," Collins said. "It was his whole life."
When one of his students was murdered in 2001, Talley founded a scholarship in her honor. The Jo Desrosier Scholarship is awarded to a student who has strived to further his or her education, despite tough circumstances. It's named after Jolene Desrosier, 17, a senior who was working full-time as waitress, living on her own and taking a slate of advanced placement courses when she was strangled in her south Everett apartment.
Talley also started a fun run that Lake Stevens High School has hosted for the past dozen years.
His students had one of the highest passing rates for AP classes anywhere in the nation, the school district reported. Talley's awards include being twice recognized by the University of Washington as a history teacher of distinction.
A few weeks ago, the Everett-based Marcus Whitman Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution honored Talley as its 2012 Outstanding American History Teacher.
The choice was an easy one to make, said Jeanne Borer, a chapter member who lives in Lake Stevens. Her three children all had Talley as a teacher, including her youngest, currently a high school senior.
Talley engaged them in learning, but went far beyond that.
"He taught them how to conduct themselves as good citizens," Borer said.
She marveled that Talley remained so humble, despite his incredible talent.
"I don't think he ever thought he was doing any thing magnificent," she said, "but he really was."
Noah Haglund: 425-339-3465; firstname.lastname@example.org.
Memorial service Tuesday
A memorial service for Lake Stevens High School history teacher Jim Talley has been scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Tuesday at the school gym. The school is at 2908 113th Ave NE, Lake Stevens.
A reception is planned afterward in the school cafeteria. to learn more, go to www.lkstevens.wednet.edu.
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