Sept. 2, 1945 – June 14, 2022
“From the second that I experienced classroom participation in college, I knew that teaching was what I wanted to do,” Kenneth J. Feltges said three weeks ago during a ceremony that enshrined him in Kenmore West High School’s Corridor of Honor.
“When I saw kids finally understand a line in a poem and become better writers and speakers and, more importantly, become independent thinkers, I knew there was no more vital and gratifying place to be than in the classroom.”
Mr. Feltges taught English, poetry and film at Kenmore West for 34 years, but instead of retiring, he continued teaching for another 11 years at nearby Mount St. Mary Academy in the Town of Tonawanda, then became his writer in residence. His dynamic and innovative manner motivated and won the admiration of thousands of students.
“He really opened our eyes to a lot of things,” recalled former WGRZ-TV chief photojournalist Andy DeSantis, who said Mr. Feltges’ filmmaking class inspired him to pursue his career behind the camera. “He didn’t stick to the general plan. I knew kids who would skip school but show up for his class from him. I have turned so many kids around.”
Tributes from his students have poured in via social media since he died June 14 in Hospice Buffalo, Cheektowaga, after a battle with cancer. A longtime Amherst resident, he was 76.
“He made class fun,” Jim Siragusa posted on the Kenmore West Class of 1973 Facebook page. “If you had him, you never forgot him.”
Born in Brooklyn, Mr. Feltges grew up in Newburgh and attended the Newburgh Free Academy.
“I was not an A student in high school,” he remarked at the Kenmore West ceremony. “I was not a B student in high school. I was in high school.”
On the second week of his freshman year at Buffalo State College in 1963, another freshman, Trudy Weisel, caught his eye.
“We met in the library next to the unabridged dictionary,” she said. They were student teachers together at Kenmore West during their junior year, and after graduating in 1967 and taking teaching positions there, they were married.
“He really could connect with kids,” his wife said. “He taught them how to read a movie, not simply watch a movie. He tried to show them they should not limit themselves.”
At Kenmore West, Mr. Feltges was adviser to the literary magazine and oversaw a writing club and a film club. He and another teacher in the Corridor of Honor, Barbara Heller, founded a community club that held activities to benefit children from distressed families. He also taught summer classes for 17 years at Kenmore East High School.
Mr. Feltges was chosen in 1988 as Educator of the Year for all eight Western New York counties by the Western District PTA. In 2012, Buffalo Business First included him among 25 educators honored as Teachers of Merit.
Kenmore West established the Kenneth Feltges Poetry Award, which honors student poets annually. At Mount St. Mary Academy, where Trudy Feltges chaired the English Department, the school presents annual Ken and Trudy Feltges Writing Awards.
Mr. Feltges boyhood love of movies led him to begin writing poetry.
“As I started to write, I realized that words in poetry are written images instead of visual images,” he told interviewer Peter Koch for Artvoice in 2006. “It was a very easy transition, then, to think in pictures as I wrote, as a crossover from film.”
He was featured regularly at local poetry readings for many years, and his poems were published in The Buffalo News and in literary magazines. He was a winner of Just Buffalo Literary Center’s 1991 Writers-in-Residence competition and its Labor in Literature contest in 1993. He was nominated for a Pushcart Prize and was named a national finalist in a Slipstream magazine chapbook competition.
Also a dedicated photo artist, for more than 40 years Mr. Feltges created hand-tinted black and white images, exhibited them at art festivals locally and won several awards.
His photos provided the illustrations for “Before Things Change,” a collection of his poetry published in 2012. His readings of 25 of the poems, collected on a CD, were considered for a nomination for a Grammy Award.
In addition to his wife, he is survived by several children and nephews.
A Mass of Christian Burial will be offered at 9:30 am Wednesday in St. Andrew’s Catholic Church, 1525 Sheridan Drive, Town of Tonawanda.