Topping off the memories
Attention! Stand up tall and straight, Chugiak-Eagle River, and give a proper salute.
William “Top” Dill, the longtime naval sciences instructor at Chugiak High School, is retiring from the classroom after 22 years of teaching.
Before he closed the book on a career chock full of instilling discipline into the students participating in the CHS naval junior ROTC program and others whose schedules put them in his classroom, teaching competition drill teams – many of which won state titles – and coaching rifle shooting teams, he had one final opportunity to see the results of his years of concentrated and dedicated teaching as hundreds of his former students gathered this past weekend for what many referred to as “Eagle River’s party of the year.”
It wasn’t in the school’s gym where so many inspections of the unit he oversaw with a firm but loving and guiding hand have successfully occurred. Instead, on May 17 the Eagle River Lions Park served as the final platform as cadets representing two plus decades of Top’s teaching formed up in uniform for what undoubtedly was the most unique – and without question, emotional – inspection the former gunnery sergeant had overseen.
“Over the past 22 years I have accumulated a volume of letters from students, parents and colleagues saying thank you or explaining what a difference I have made in their lives and or the lives of their children,” Top said with clearly detectable humility when he spoke with the Star last week about his upcoming retirement. He admitted reservation regarding talking about his achievements and quickly followed up with an admission that he’d much rather point to the success of his students, so many of whom give glowing reports of Top’s lasting mark on their lives.
Alicia Ross is one of those students. This year marks 15 years of active duty service between the U.S. Air Force and the U.S. Air Force Reserve. She is currently stationed at Elmendorf Field at Joint Base Elmendorf Richardson with the 477th Fighter Group Air Force Reserve.
“If it wasn’t for the influence of Top Dill, I would never have completed thus far nearly 15 years of military service,” Ross said.
Kim Mattison, a 2005 graduate, is now a mother of three and working at the Chugiak Volunteer Fire Department.
“I can honestly say that I love that man,” Mattison said. “If it weren’t for him, I’m not sure I would have made it through high school. He truly helped me to be the person I am today.”
Curtis Vik, a 1996 graduate, now an Alaska State Trooper working as an investigator with the Western Alaska Alcohol and Narcotics Team, is a “Top” graduate and curator of hundreds of “Top” photos presented in a historic slide show highlighting Dill’s career. His older brother, Kevin Vik, is a 2002 Chugiak graduate. He went on to attend the Virginia Military Institute and on to pursue a career in law enforcement. In 2009, when Kevin graduated from the from the Alaska State Trooper Academy in Sitka, “Top” was there to pin his newly-earned AK State Trooper badge on him.
It’s a moment Vik’s mother, Kathleen Vik, will never forget. Not only was she a beaming and proud mother, but as the department chair of the CHS Career Technology Department, seeing the man, the instructor that mentored her son take part in Kevin’s first career steps was one of those full circle moments.
“We surprised Kevin with this. He had no idea. When Top stepped up, for me as a teacher also it was the kind of thing I like to do with my students. It was a pretty amazing experience as a parent to have a teacher as influential as Top in the lives of my three sons and then to remain active in their lives as they begin their professions.”
Vik and Dill worked seamlessly together, she said. They shared concerns about mutual students and supported each other’s programs. Vik’s culinary arts students prepared reception meals for the annual ROTC pass and review. Dill’s students used Vik’s classroom to prepare the ROTC annual Thanksgiving feast in Vik’s classroom while Vik relocated her students to the ROTC firing range.
“Top needed my classroom and he walked in to the range to hear some of my students who were out of their element with being located to another classroom being mega disrespectful,” Vik recalled. “He got right in their face and said to them, ‘just what do you think you are doing talking to Mrs. Vik like that.’ They were shaking in their boots and I didn’t have any further trouble.”
That kind of story doesn’t surprise Mattison, who said that “Top” could instill the fear of God into any student. But, as he pointed out, he was also always kind and genuinely concerned for the welfare and betterment of his students.
An estimated 3,500 to 4,000 CHS students have gone through his classroom since he first took up teaching in 1992. The list of teaching awards and honors he’s received are far too numerous to list. Those pieces of paper are great resume fodder in his opinion, but the best reward has been to watch his students become responsible citizens.
“What we have here is a leadership development program; a citizenship program,” he said. “What I have loved about this job is that every one of my students has a gift, everyone has a weakness, everyone has a strength. When these strengths, these gifts, these weaknesses are revealed to them and then they begin to bring out the best in themselves, when they realize that they are worth something, that they don’t have to be knucklehead, that they can contribute to our society, that is what has made this job for me.”