As news of Nevada Union teacher Craig Zetterberg’s death Saturday began to spread, Facebook messages from all over the world started flooding in to his friends and family about the impact of the man called “the cornerstone” of the school.
“Kids from Africa, kids from South America are reaching out, now that they’ve heard this, to confirm it’s true,” said Jeff Dellis, a fellow teacher and close friend. “I’m just — I think everyone’s just overwhelmed at how many people he’s affected.”
Zetterberg, who coached girls’ water polo and who co-coached the mountain biking team at NU, was riding with the mountain bikers Saturday when he died of a heart attack, said NU Assistant Principal Paul Lundberg.
“He was heading up the back, making sure the stragglers were there,” Lundberg said.
Lundberg said plans are being put in place to help students and staff deal with Zetterberg’s loss.
“He was the heart of NU — it’s really going to rock the kids,” he said. “We’re meeting with pastors and crisis counselors and putting together a program. We will have a crisis center for the kids in the west gym, that will be open with a myriad of pastors and counselors (available).”
Zetterberg, a teacher for more than 20 years, had taught social studies at NU for seven years after coming to Nevada County from Wheatland. He taught in the Partnership Academy, as well as a class for at-risk students, a move that friend Mitch Giles said pushed him “a little” out of his comfort zone.
But those who knew Zetterberg agreed that everything he did was focused on student success.
“You know, a lot of times people get romanticized in their passing — but there’s no need to do that with Craig,” Dellis said. “He was singularly the most important person at NU.”
Dellis cited Zetterberg’s enthusiasm and depth of caring as some of the attributes that made him popular, not just with students, but with staff.
“People felt heard by Craig,” he said. “They felt that he really cared for them.
“Everyone knew his end game was the kids,” Dellis said. “He was an amazing teacher … (But) even kids that didn’t have him in class were impacted by him.
“He is what every teacher should aspire to be like.”
Zetterberg didn’t limit himself to classroom work or to extracurricular activities, Dellis said.
The two men were part of a weekly meeting to discuss the state of the athletic culture at NU and ways to make the kids positive role models in the community. They restarted a club that had been defunct since the 1970s, the Block N Club, a group of varsity athletes who reached out through community service.
“He was very involved in trying to improve the culture and the perception in the community of what NU was all about,” Dellis said.
Zetterberg “put students above any other priority at school,” Giles said. “He taught them his great work ethic and respect for the school and the teachers.”
Giles echoed the depth of his friend’s commitment, saying, “he had his hand in everything at that school.”
As an example, Giles cited the upcoming testing at the school, which is set to start Tuesday — just one day after the entire student body is to learn of Zetterberg’s death.
“The school was debating whether we should get an extension,” Giles said. “But knowing Craig, I don’t think we need that because his kids are prepared and he would want them to do it.”
One of Zetterberg’s favorite sayings is something that Giles is taking to heart, today and in the days to come.
“We’re just doing what we do,” he said.
“We’re taking care of business. We’re doing what we do.”
Zetterberg is survived by his wife, Collette; son, Keegan; and daughter, Alexandra. No information as to memorial services was available Sunday.
To contact City Editor Liz Kellar, email email@example.com or call 530-477-4229.