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Beloved area teacher dies suddenly

Selma Times Journal

Marshall Knudsen, who influenced hundreds of students as a teacher here, died Wednesday of a heart attack.

The news ripped through Dallas County and Marion, where Knudsen, 64, taught for years.

A family friend, Tom Wilbourne, said Knudsen collapsed shortly after a 7-mile run Tuesday night. He was taken to a nearby hospital, where he died early Wednesday. Funeral arrangements were incomplete at press time.

Students and former students paused later in the day to remember him. A single statement emerged: “He was the epitome of a true Southern gentleman.”

During the 2007-08 school year at John Tyler Morgan Academy, Knudsen earned Teacher of the Year honors. He had taught there for a combined 12 years.

“He really affected my life,” said Sarah Kelly George, a former English and French student, who lives in Mississippi now. “I became a French major because of his influence.”

He remembered his students after they left his classroom. George talked about when her mother died, and Knudsen wrote a letter. “I still have that letter. It means so much to me, even today,” she said.

As much as he worked with his students, his colleagues said they also appreciated his wit and wisdom.

“If he ran across something he though you would be interested in, he would pass it along,” said Karim Oakes, a Morgan teacher and cheerleader sponsor. “He was always up for whatever we would ask of him for a pep rally. It didn’t matter if it was to host a quiz show or judge a dance contest.”

As much as the Morgan student body loved him, Knudsen also drew respect and admiration from his students at Marion Military Institute, where he taught for 24 years.

Wilbourne recently introduced Knudsen when he received the institute’s 2008 Brigade Honored Teachers. Knudsen taught Wilburn in the ninth grade and later as a sophomore in college. They became friends.

“At 20, I fully realized what an absolutely fascinating intellect and role model he was,” Wilburn said. “I often think what would Marshall do, say or write?”

The sudden death of this instructor leaves a hole in the community and sadness in the hearts of the institute’s alumni, faculty and staff, said Col. Jim Benson, president of the military school.

Randy Skipper, headmaster at Morgan Academy, echoed Benson’s sentiments.

“Of course it is a tremendous loss to Morgan, but it is also a tremendous loss to everyone who knew him.”