The Valley Heights community suffered the loss of a teacher and coach on May 31.

Those who knew him best say Lamar Whitson III (Lew) was a wise mentor, a loyal friend, inspiring family man and cherished instructor in his community. When he died in a car accident last month, it sent a ripple through his community. His students shared their favorite memories of him on social media and those who knew him mourned.

Tony Trimble, the Valley Heights athletics director who coached football and track alongside Whitson since the latter’s arrival at the school in 2008, said being around him every day was a true testament to his character.

“Just as an individual, he was one of the most genuine, caring people that I’ve ever been around. He was very faith-based (in his) philosophy and with life,” Trimble said. “He was a spectacular guy, a great teacher, great father, great mentor and a great coach.”

Whitson had a way of understanding people, Trimble said.

He helped students through rough patches in their lives and spent time with them whenever he could.

“A lot of people didn’t know he did that kind of stuff,” Trimble said. “He didn’t do it for any attention. He just did it because he truly cared about the kids.”

A history teacher, Whitson helped anyone around him. Adam Plummer learned from him as a fellow social studies teacher during his time at Valley Heights. Last week, Plummer was in Washington, D.C. Every year, he takes a group of kids to the nation’s capital, first going in 2012. Whitson went along for the initial trip seven years ago.

“A lot of those memories were popping up on social media for me and seeing him on there,” Plummer said. “That was my first experience on that trip, too, so I have some vivid memories of seeing him at certain locations. It’s just weird. It’s almost like he’s still here.”

Whitson and Plummer coached boys’ basketball together. too, sharing dozens of bus rides, which Plummer remembers fondly. Plummer looks back on those conversations and said they were peaceful and laid back because of Whitson’s demeanor. He was accepting and an excellent listener.

This attribute made Whitson a valuable role model for his students and children. Trimble’s son, Brady, had a strong relationship with Whitson, too.

“There is a senior spotlight story in the school newspaper where they ask, ‘Who did you think made one of the biggest impacts on (your life) in high school?’ and of course my son says, ‘Coach Whitson,’” Tony Trimble said. “I kind of half-jokingly was jealous that it wasn’t me as one of his teachers and coaches, but I told him I’m proud to learn that he had mentioned Coach Whitson. My son said, ‘He means a whole lot to me.’”

Whitson always knew what to say, Trimble said. When Brady or other players were struggling or growing frustrated with football or school, they could go to Whitson.

Plummer also remembered a time when Whitson inspired him simply by the way he conducted himself around his wife and children.

“Toward the latter part of my career he obviously was engulfed in the very busy part of his family life, and I was just starting my family, so I got to witness how he was as a father and how he was as a husband and how he treated and interacted with his family,” Plummer said. “It was a great inspiration for me.”

There is a philosophy Plummer likes to instill in his students he felt Whitson embodied.

“I always tell my kids who I teach or coach that you can tell a whole lot about someone based on how they treat someone who can do absolutely nothing for you. And he would treat every kid the same and was respectful to every single staff member no matter the position,” Plummer said. “The people who couldn’t give anything back to him, he treated them just like he would anybody else.”

One of Whitson’s two sons, Lamar E. Whitson IV, took to Twitter to share more memories of his father’s character before they celebrate his life during a service at 2 p.m. Saturday.

“Our family’s desire is to truly celebrate my dad and who he was. Those of you who knew him, know his love for sports (and) also know that he wasn’t much for ‘formal,” Lamar wrote. “That being said, we are asking people who choose to celebrate his life with us on Saturday to wear gameday attire and dress as they would if they were attending a Kansas State Wildcats, Valley Heights Mustangs, Oklahoma Sooners, Grinnell Warriors, Grinnell-Wheatland Thunderhawks, or Sterling College Warriors football game.”

Whitson always was about support. He was in their corner.

Trimble said Whitson exemplified this with one simple, but meaningful, action after every football game.

“He would be the first person to shake my hand whether we won or lost and tell me ‘Good win’ or ‘Keep our heads up and keep working to get better,’” Trimble said. “I’m going to miss that a lot.”