Teel, 86, was Empire educator, school namesake

One of the namesakes for Teel Middle School, a man who served Empire's school district for nearly three decades and is credited with improving the district's finances as superintendent in the 1970s, died Friday at the age of 86.

Roma T. Teel was born in Oklahoma in 1921. Twenty years later, he married his first wife, Dora Lee Forbis, who died in 1977.

Teel spent 1943-46 in the China-Burma-India theater as an Army staff sergeant before moving to Modesto with his first wife.

"They came out in 1952 to visit relatives," said Teel's second wife, June Teel, 77, whom he married in 1978. "Everybody was desperate for teachers, so they moved out here. Working with the kids, that was his thing."

Teel was a teacher in Empire from 1952 until 1959. He was a vice principal until 1968, then principal until 1972. In 1973, when the Empire Union School District superintendent left, Teel stepped in.

"He came on when Empire had a lot of problems," said Jim Allen, 71, who was on the school board in the 1970s. During that time, the district could not afford even paper or classroom supplies. Teel helped promote a tax to bring money into the cash-strapped district.

Teel suffered a stroke in 1978 and retired in 1980. Several months later, school board members voted to name Empire's middle school after him and his first wife, who taught language arts in Empire for 25 years.

After he retired, Roma and June Teel traveled the country by camper, cruising to Alaska on the Island Princess and enjoying New England's autumn leaves.

"We would plan these trips and do pretty much what we'd in- tended," said June Teel. "Then, at a certain point we'd look at each other and say, 'Let's go home.' Not that we weren't getting along, but home looked pretty good. Modesto always looked pretty good."

Empire School Board member Ed Bearden, 67, remembers Teel from decades ago, when Teel taught shop and Bearden was a student. They also were neighbors.

"He was nice to be around, always friendly, always warm," said Bearden, who said he was glad Empire's middle school carries Teel's name. "That's a legacy that he's left, a living legacy in the community for- ever."

Teel's funeral will be held Jan. 21 at 1 p.m. at Salas Brothers Funeral Chapel, 419 Scenic Drive. A private burial will follow.

Bee staff writer Emilie Raguso can be reached at eraguso@modbee.com or 578-2235.