MANATEE -- At the start of a school year marked with change and challenges, Manatee High School mourns the sudden loss of drafting, design and technology teacher Joe Orr.
Nathan Bergbom, Mr. Orr's son-in-law, said Mr. Orr was working on a ladder at his friend's home Sunday when he fell and hit his head. He was flown to Tampa General Hospital, where he was pronounced dead just before 11 a.m. Tuesday.
Bergbom said Mr. Orr was his teacher his senior year of high school.
Mr. Orr, a popular teacher at Manatee High School, was the adviser for the Technology Student Association, coaching students in technology competitions and offering career and education advice to MHS students, as well as students from other area schools.
Mr. Orr's children are both graduates of Southeast High School.
Mr. Orr, an organ donor, was 58.
Mr. Orr taught applied technology at Manatee High School for nearly 28 years. Before working at Manatee High, Mr. Orr was hired in 1978 as an industrial arts teacher at Bradenton Middle School, which is now closed.
"We all compete, but at the end of the day, he was a mentor to every kid in Manatee County," said Richard Platt, a technology teacher at Southeast High School who described Mr. Orr as his best friend. The Southeast team regularly competed against Manatee High in TSA competitions.
"It is a sad day at Southeast High School right now," Platt said
Joe Komor, a junior at Southeast High School, attended Manatee High School for a semester during his sophomore year and had Mr. Orr as his adviser.
"He was my TSA adviser, so I saw him every day after school," Komor said. "My best memory of Mr. Orr would be how he was always showing me his fishing photos and photos of boats that he built."
Komor said Mr. Orr helped him master the laser machine.
"He's one of those teachers that does not just teach by the book," Komor said. "He also taught his own philosophy and had personal relationships. We were friends."
Students and friends have created the Facebook pages "RIP Mr. Orr" and "Remembering Joe Orr" in his honor.
It has been a difficult summer for Manatee High School, as the loss of a teacher comes immediately after the investigation of the school's assistant football coach Rod Frazier.
The school also held a protest in June when art teach Robert Reiber, along with other teachers, hung a mural of Edvard Munch's "Scream," made by Reiber's art students when budget cuts prevented them from using school kilns to fire pottery.
And now, the school faces the sudden death of a well-loved teacher just before the first day of school.
"There is a cloud over us at Manatee High School," said teacher Steve Parisian.
Gil Burlew, a technology teacher at Braden River High School, said Mr. Orr suffered a heart attack this spring.
Burlew said he and Mr. Orr were discussing Mr. Orr's good health at the back-to-school meeting for teachers last week.
"I am devastated he is gone in such a short amount of time," Burlew said. "It's a hard loss."
Platt said Mr. Orr was the kind of teacher who was an example to others.
"The big thing Joe did is he always operated with incredible integrity," Platt said. "He was always preparing students for the job world in engineering and in technology. He did projects the kids loved."
Platt recalled the student-designed model aircraft hanging from the ceiling in Mr. Orr's classroom and another project in which Mr. Orr had his students design and build antique-style model boats.
The service for Mr. Orr will be held at the Happy Gospel Church at 1915 53rd Ave. E. Visitation will begin at 2 p.m. Saturday and the service will begin at 3 p.m.
In lieu of flowers, Mr. Orr's family said his final wishes would be for donations to the Manatee High School Technology Student Association.
Erica Earl, education reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7081.