MANATEE If Calvin Esaw had a day off, he was out fishing.
On Presidents Day, he and his two brothers-in-law went fishing at the Ringling Causeway in Sarasota.
All three men were 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.
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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 un
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 10 years ago, said his wife, Flossie Esaw.
“He wanted to give the kids in the community a church of their own where they could relate to God,” Esaw said.
Esaw said she found out about her husband’s death when one of their sons called her.
Flossie and Calvin were married for 27 years, she said, and had three sons, ages 25, 26, and 27.
Esaw said her husband told her one day that the school staff told him he always greeted the children first, and later the teachers.
“His focus was always the children first,” Esaw said.
On Tuesday afternoon, the Fresh Start Youth Ministries 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.
Esaw said a memorial service will be held at the Boys & Girls Club, 1415 9th Street West, on Sunday at 11 a.m.
The viewing will be at the Westside Funeral Parlor in Palmetto, from 2 to 5 p.m. on Sunday.
On Monday, the funeral service will be held at the Happy Gospel Church at 2 p.m.
“He was one of the nicest people I’ve ever met in my whole life,” Griffin said.