When an old teacher passes on, it is a mark of his legacy that his students remember him fondly, and pass on his words of inspiration.

Bill Agresta passed away last week at the age of 79. He taught my older sisters history at St. Mary's High School in Saginaw, and though I knew him only as a neighbor and the young high school coach, the students who did have him admired him greatly as a mentor of young people.

They spoke glowingly of his love for history and his ability to motivate young athletes and young minds.

He coached St. Mary's football and basketball teams to league championships in the late '60s, and then went on to Hemlock High School where his boys and girls cross country teams won 11 conference titles, eight Saginaw County championships, eight regional titles and two state titles in 2001 and 2002. His girls cross country team won five league titles, 11 Saginaw County championships and a second-place finish in the state.

Agresta also coached the Hemlock girls track team to a state title in 1995 and a second-place finish in 1996.

One of his students at Hemlock wrote of his legacy in an open letter posted to his Facebook page last week.

“I can’t imagine how well a funeral service would have been attended,” Drown told MLive. “But Bill wouldn’t have wanted that. He would have been upset if people had taken time out of their day to go to his funeral.

So I'm sure he'd think this post by a punk kid who lived near the school is nothing short of awkward, but he wrote a poem that I happened to love, and it spoke volumes about who he was.

When his friend, Charles Shea, passed away in 1968 after battling cancer, Agresta handed his daughters a poem he wrote about overcoming adversity that resonates even today.

With my feet firm to the ground
The twisting upland trail my cross
Push on - while others falter and fall
Not for lack of strength, but of purpose,
Others cried out to be saved
That the cup would pass,

I pushed onward, knowing there is no merit
Save that which is earned; knowing also
The Plan calls not for miracles but effort,
We cannot choose our burdens only bear them.

Others felt encouraged to try, my example
An incentive to many - the path must be climbed
Not wished away - so that when my task
Was completed, when the trail was felled
I turned and saw that others had followed,
Despair had been dispelled, bitterness its day done.

And the trail - once hard, meaningless, was bathed
In the light of truth
And those of us who remain yet to climb, found meaning
Found courage.

The deep red scars we found so difficult to bear
Now shone as symbols of your dedication
And today we take heart - to top the hill no matter
What the cost - that the reward which awaits us
Is surely worth the effort.

This is your credo, your heritage, and the message
Shall not be lost among us - your faith will
Be repaid one hundred fold. For us the trail,
though as equally steep, bears your footsteps,
We will redouble our efforts for we see you
Standing at the end of the trail constantly urging
Us onward, reminding us that "while on earth
God's work is truly our own."

-- Bill Agresta
After the death of Charles Shea, May 1968

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