MANATEE — If Calvin Esaw had a day off, he was out fishing.
On Presidents Day, he and his two brothers-in-law went wade fishing at the Ringling Causeway in Sarasota.
All three men were garbed in chest-high waders. Esaw wandered a little farther away. But his wader filled up with water, Sarasota police Capt. Paul K. Sutton said, forcing him underwater.
The two other men spotted a kayak near a dock. Esaw was rescued and brought to shore. But it was too late.
Esaw, an elementary school art teacher, devoted Christian and avid fisherman, died on Monday at Sarasota Memorial Hospital. He was 54.Sutton called the Bradenton man’s death a “tragedy.”
At Tillman Elementary School on Tuesday, students and staff coped with the unexpected loss.
Esaw worked at the school for 20 years, said principal Shirin Gibson.
He taught art from kindergarten to fifth grade.
“Every single student was impacted by Mr. Esaw,” Gibson said.
A full crisis team — comprised of social workers and psychologists — visited classrooms on Tuesday.
“The teachers are in shock, and the students are in shock,” Gibson said. “Our No. 1 priority is making sure the students are OK.”
Manatee County School District spokeswoman Margi Nanney said the nine-person team would be available all day Tuesday and “as needed throughout the week.”
Jeff Lego, the school’s music teacher, said Esaw was a “pretty remarkable guy” who besides being the art teacher, ran a math club in the mornings and tutored students in science in preparation for the FCAT.
Students always wanted to hang out at Mr. Esaw’s classroom in the morning, Lego said. “It was the place to be,” he said. “Some of them had really special relationships with Mr. Esaw.”
Tillman Elementary School is a magnet school focusing on graphic arts and mass communications. There are fewer than 500 students, Lego said.
Outside of school, Esaw also ran the Fresh Start Youth Ministries. On Wednesday nights and Sunday mornings, he picked up “kids that wouldn’t ordinarily go to church” in the East Bradenton area, feed them and take them to the Boys & Girls Club, where Esaw taught them the Gospel, Lego said.
Esaw launched the program about two years ago and funded it himself, Esaw said, later managing to gain donations from the community.On Tuesday afternoon, the bus was parked on the side of Esaw’s purple home in the 1900 block of 30th Avenue East. On the top of a window, it read, “Christians working for a better tomorrow.”
With tears welling in his eyes, Esaw’s next-door neighbor, Rick Griffin, said Esaw always said “God bless you” before saying goodbye.Griffin said Esaw enjoyed fishing. Last year, he bought a stainless steel table from Griffin that he used to clean fish.
“He was one of the nicest people I’ve ever met in my whole life,” Griffin said.