Belleville West High School graduates remember Vincent Torigian as a tough teacher, but also someone who believed in them.
Torigian died on Monday. He was 76 years old.
His daughters Lori Torigian Rogers and Michelle Torigian are among his former students.
“He was fair, but he was firm, and he was encouraging,” Lori Torigian Rogers said. This week, she said she heard the same thing from other former students who reached out on Facebook.
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Torigian taught U.S. history and civics at the school from 1964 to 2000. He was also the social studies department chair.
Belleville West Principal Rich Mertens remembers Torigian as being involved in the school community — from the sporting events to a yearly staff celebration near President’s Day, which Torigian co-founded. Mertens said Torigian continued coming back for the annual faculty party that featured chili cooked by the social studies teachers even after he retired.
“He was incredibly passionate about civics and government and Belleville West,” Mertens said.
Torigian was especially passionate about the school’s history club, through which he encouraged his students to compete in an annual competition on the subject, according to Mertens. Torigian founded the club and served as its sponsor for nearly 30 years.
He had Parkinson’s disease near the end of his life, but Torigian’s daughter said he didn’t let it slow him down. Parkinson’s is a progressive disorder of the nervous system, according to the Mayo Clinc. Torigian was supported by family, especially his wife Laureen.
“They were a good team,” Lori Torigian Rogers said.
Laureen Torigian is also a former educator who taught at Our Lady Queen of Peace in Belleville.
“Our thoughts and prayers are with his family,” said Jeff Dosier, Belleville District 201 superintendent. “He had a great reputation as a teacher at Belleville West.”
Danny Nollman was Torigian’s colleague and friend. He said Torigian “strongly believed in giving back to the school.”
Any excess money that his history club would raise would be used to make improvements to the school, like purchasing air conditioner units for classrooms at the old Belleville West building, Nollman said. Torigian retired before Belleville West’s new building was constructed on Frank Scott Parkway.
Nollman said the veteran teacher also influenced many teachers who came after him.
“I owe a great deal to Vince on instilling in me the love of teaching, the love of doing the right thing for the school, for the kids and putting them first,” he said.
Nollman said Torigian loved his students.
“My wife and I always went out to dinner with Vince and Laureen on a regular basis. It never failed that we would run into somebody that knew Mr. Torigian,” Nollman said. “The thing about Vince was he remembered their names. I mean, he knew these kids. He remembered them. I can’t remember kids’ names that I had, but he did.”
Lori Torigian Rogers said a visitation for her father is scheduled for 4-8 p.m. Friday at Kurrus Funeral Home in Belleville, with a service at 10 a.m. Saturday.
The Torigian family said people can make donations in honor of Vincent Torigian to Dr. Joel Perlmutter Parkinson’s disease research at Washington University or to the social studies scholarship program at Belleville West.
Mertens said the scholarship program is being renamed in Torigian’s memory. The school is also home to a bench inscribed with Torigian’s name, which was installed following his retirement.