Puyallup principal lives school motto while facing bone marrow disease

Stahl Junior High School Principal Troy Hodge asks his students to do three things: Show up. Do the work. Be positive.

And when he announced to them in the fall that he was battling a bone marrow disease that can lead to leukemia, he promised to employ the same strategy for himself.

“The first couple of weeks were hard — coming to grips with it,” the 46-year-old Hodge said of his diagnosis, which came after a routine physical exam.

At the South Hill junior high, he broke the news first to staff members, then got on the school’s student-produced morning news broadcast and made the announcement to students.

“I wanted to let kids know,” he said. “I wanted them to have accurate information.”

World studies teacher Linda Hoerling-Glenn said Stahl staff members were surprised, particularly because of the timing. The school was also coping with the cancer diagnosis of another staff member, math teacher Sarah Cypher, who died in November.

Hoerling-Glenn is one of the prime organizers of an upcoming effort to help Hodge and others, called The Hodge Dodge. They want to recruit potential donors of bone marrow or blood stem cells for a registry.

While Hodge isn’t yet at the critical stage of needing a transplant, staff members working on the February event recognize that it could offer the gift of life not only to him, but also to others who are unable to find a donor match among family members.

Hodge told his staff that his doctor said it could be several years before he needs a transplant, and it’s too early to test members of his family to see if they could be donors. But like true teachers, he said, staff members are planning ahead and hosting the Hodge Dodge at Stahl as a sort of pre-emptive strike.

“They said, ‘It’s not about you, it’s about us,’” Hodge added.

Volunteer staff members are already lining up to help, signing up for fanciful jobs that Hoerling-Glenn has created —everything from Supreme Sultan of Sign Wavers to Director of Vehicular Placement (aka parking). Yes, they are expecting a crowd.

“We put a Facebook page (Hodge Dodge 2015) up one morning, and by 11 that night we already had 1,100 connections,” Hoerling-Glenn said. “We have people coming from other school districts. If we’re going to do it, we’re going to do it big.”

Hodge is in his fourth year as principal at Stahl. Before that, he was an assistant principal at Emerald Ridge High School for six years. He’s settled into a comfortable routine at Stahl, where he’s well-known for his morning ritual.

Standing just inside the front door on a chilly morning, he wears gloves and a sweater as he greets as many of the 800-plus student arrivals as he can. Some kids are oblivious as they cross the threshold, absorbed in headphone music or glued to their cell phones.

But Hodge reaches out with a generous supply of high-fives and a chorus of “Good morning, everybody” and “Welcome to school.”

Hodge says the ritual is his way of keeping his finger on the pulse of the campus. Judging by students’ morning entry or the equipment they’re carrying, he knows who might be headed to a sporting event after school, who will be rehearsing in the band room — and possibly who is having a bad day.

So far, despite his illness, Hodge said he’s doing OK. The only medication he’s taking is baby aspirin. He’s had a few uncomfortable symptoms, but he hasn’t called in sick. He and his doctor are now watching and waiting to see how the disease progresses.

“There’s really no timeline,” he said. “It could take two years, or 10 years.”

No matter what, Hoerling-Glenn is confident the Stahl staff will be there to support the principal.

“They say that when you find the right people, you can move mountains,” she said. “These people — they can move a mountain range.”