Beloved Everett teacher delighted in nature, kids

Mr. Sudkamp’s students heard it all the time: “Isn’t nature wonderful?”

That was how the Everett High School biology teacher often ended his lessons — with a question that was also his fervent declaration.

Andrew Sudkamp delighted in nature. He taught it. He made it the subject of his artistry through botanical illustrations. He spent his leisure time helping it along in the showcase garden at his Everett home.

On Aug. 4, the 55-year-old teacher died at one of nature’s most glorious places, the Grand Canyon.

He and one of his brothers, Dave Sudkamp, were hiking at the canyon in northern Arizona when he died of an apparent cardiac arrest.

“He was at a sibling reunion,” said his widow, Mary Ann Sudkamp, who had stayed in Everett. “He had five or six days with his family, his brothers and sisters — which they cherish.” They were staying at Cottonwood Campground, near the canyon’s north rim. In 2008, Mary Ann took the same hike with her husband. “It’s spectacular,” she said.

Sudkamp, an Everett High teacher since 2002, grew up in the small town of Sidell, Illinois. In 1983, he earned a bachelor’s degree in botany, with a minor in art, from Eastern Illinois University. His botanical illustrations have been published by a university and other sources. After doing graduate work in horticulture at Washington State University, he received a master’s in education from the University of Oregon.

A world traveler, he spent 1998 to 2000 in Slovenia, where he taught English.

“It was really important to him that kids understood the natural world,” said Nancy Flowers, an Everett High chemistry teacher. “He used to say to them, ‘Isn’t nature wonderful?’ He was concerned this generation of kids was not so tied to the natural world.”

Flowers said her colleague wasn’t enamored with today’s gadgets. “He hated cellphones. He had a flip phone and was proud of it,” she said. In some ways, she said, “Andy was really born in the wrong century. I could see him as a naturalist in the 19th century, a botanical illustrator going out to wander the countryside.”

Sudkamp cared deeply about his students, and was beloved by them.

Within a few days of his death, students were out painting “In Memory of Mr. Sudkamp” on the big boulder that faces Colby Avenue on Everett High’s campus. “Some of the flowers left there are being planted under his window,” said Cindy McIntyre, another biology teacher at the high school.

On social media and the online guest book accompanying Sudkamp’s obituary in The Herald, students have shared memories of a favorite teacher.

“Thank you for being the first teacher that got me interested in science as a freshman,” wrote Cassidy Ipsen, of Everett. And Everett’s Alisha Alderson, now 21, will never forget him saying “Isn’t nature wonderful, ladies and gentlemen?”

“He was not just a teacher, he was a friend,” 16-year-old Ericka Pollack said last week. In biology class, she said Sudkamp often talked about the places he had traveled and his legendary garden. The Sudkamps’ garden in north Everett was featured in the Evergreen Arboretum’s Gardens of Merit Tour in 2008.

Pollack, an Everett High junior, remembered one awful day she was having. “And he noticed. He didn’t just pass it over, he actually noticed and asked how I was,” she said.

Amy Burton, Everett High School’s office manager, said her son Billy Burton had Sudkamp for biology. “Billy is now at the UW studying resource management. Andy definitely made an impact on many of the students,” Burton said.

“He had one of the biggest hearts of any person I’ve ever met. He always took the time to get to know his students, and their cultures,” McIntyre said. She remembers standing with him on the second floor of the science building greeting kids between classes. Sudkamp, who had previously taught English language learners, “would greet them in their own languages. He would try and learn at least a few words in his students’ languages,” she said.

“He had a magical way,” said Marjorie Burr, who is retired after 15 years teaching English at Everett High. Burr lives on Whidbey Island with her husband, Steven, who was with the Sudkamps on the 2008 Grand Canyon hike.

“He had an open heart,” Marjorie Burr said. “He gave 100 percent of himself to whatever he was doing, in the classroom or on the hiking trail.” She said Sudkamp’s success with students “sprang from his genuine interest in getting them to do their best. And he believed they could.”

Sudkamp was scheduled to teach a new course this fall at Everett High, AP Environmental Science, along with biology. In June, he attended AP Institute sessions in Bellevue to prepare. “He was so looking forward to that,” said McIntyre, who teaches AP biology. “We were all so excited for him getting that started. I know the kids at Everett High were.”

Sudkamp was excited about so many things, his wife said. He loved to cook, and share meals with friends. He loved to read. He loved his garden, a bounty of vegetables, fruits and ornamental plants. He loved time spent with his large family. Sudkamp, who had no children, is survived by four sisters and three brothers.

Mary Ann Sudkamp knows best how her husband cared about kids.

“He wasn’t an invasive teacher, but he was pretty keen on what was going on with them,” she said. “He really loved those teenagers. He really did love them.”

Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460; jmuhlstein@heraldnet.com.

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