Teacher, chronicler, volunteer, really bad dancer. Born Aug. 21, 1934, in Wadena, Sask., died Aug. 4, 2013, in Saskatoon of natural causes, aged 78.
‘There are very few people who have a real influence on your life. Alan Selin was one of those special people.”
This comment, from a student who became a teacher because of Alan, summarizes the sentiments of hundreds.
Alan began teaching in one-room schools in rural Saskatchewan at the age of 19. In 1962, he moved to Biggar, where he taught high school until his retirement.
He was fascinated by history, particularly Saskatchewan and Canadian history, the two world wars and the American Civil War. He loved to talk to pioneers and veterans about their experiences, and brought those stories into the classroom.
In a testimony to his impact, in 1975 a group of former students raised a generous sum to send him to Europe to visit the places he taught about. While abroad, Alan took pictures of the war graves of Saskatchewan men and gave the photos to surviving family members, many of whom had never seen their loved one’s grave.
Alan plunged wholeheartedly into extracurricular activities, including school dances, where he demonstrated the notorious “Selin Shuffle.” Students loved his bad puns and self-deprecating wit.
His interest in his students did not stop at graduation. Alan had an exceptional memory and would recognize them even if he hadn’t seen them for years. He was deeply curious about what made people tick, where they came from and who they were connected to.
He loved to strike up conversations with strangers. Even in his last days in hospital, he would hear the name of the latest person at his bedside, Dr. So-and-So, and would ask, “Are you related to the So-and-Sos from …?” It usually turned out that he knew some friend or relation.
A darker defining feature of Alan’s life was his struggle with clinical depression and obsessive-compulsive disorder, which often kept him from looking beyond his immediate worries toward the broader beauty of life.
For years, depression was never publicly discussed, making living with the disease all the more difficult. Alan was very grateful when Mike Wallace of CBS’s 60 Minutes revealed his struggle with depression, and when people Alan knew personally did the same.
His illness was a double-edged sword: It was probably what made him so sympathetic to others who struggled with personal demons, and his OCD was partly responsible for his striving for excellence in teaching.
Alan gave countless hours to community organizations in Biggar and the surrounding area. After moving to Saskatoon in 2004, he focused his energy on his church’s efforts to promote inclusion for people of all sexual orientations and gender identities. His advocacy for GLBT rights was, he said, motivated by the indignities and struggles he saw his gay students face throughout his teaching career.
Alan’s family, friends and students miss him dearly.
Shannon Selin is Alan’s daughter.