October 12, 2023 at 1:20 p.m.

In the Wake of Adversity: Educator Offers Sage Advice

Todd Grimes rings bell following his last chemotherapy treatment in January 2023.
Todd Grimes rings bell following his last chemotherapy treatment in January 2023.

By JENN WILLHITE | Comments: 0 | Leave a comment

When asked “Who is Todd Grimes?” the former Hauser educator's answer might surprise you.

“Good question,” Grimes answered when posed with the question during a recent phone interview. “I am still trying to figure that out myself.”

After some thought, the 55-year-old added, “All kinds of things.” 

To others, terms including “inspiration” and “friend” are the first to spring to mind.

Now, if you ask him his philosophy of life the answer is certain and steadfast.

Leaning into a quote credited to many, including the late comedian Robin Williams, Grimes has always been fond of the notion that relays the importance of keeping in mind that one never really knows what others are going through behind the scenes and the battles they are fighting that others know nothing about.

“It is always important to err on the side of being kind to one another,” he says.

However, as all things in life are subject, things change. Including philosophies.

The long-time educator and avid runner initially made his impact in the Hope community when he hired on as a teacher at Hauser High School in 1992. During his 15 years in the classroom, hundreds of students learned about US History, World History and Psychology from the 1986 Columbus North High School graduate and Hanover College alumnus.

Long-time friend and former colleague David Webster says Grimes’ “leadership, inspiration and friendship makes a difference in a lot of lives, including mine.”

Webster recalls Grimes’ as being highly respected among teachers and administrators alike.

“He is a highly qualified teacher who connected with his students and inspired them to a higher level,” Webster says.

In the years prior to his death in 2018, Grimes’ father, Chuck, was a regular contributor to HSJ Online.

“I asked Todd if he might be willing to write for us and was extremely pleased that he agreed,” Webster says. “Todd brought experiences from writing for other publications when he was younger, and his reflections about education and life have greatly added to the content of HSJ.”

Since he left Hauser in 2007, Grimes has worked for Indianapolis Public Schools and is currently teaching at the Academy at Greenfield Central, an alternative program that is an extension of the high school, he explains.

“I’ve always taught about the same grade level,” he says. “Now, peculiarly enough, I’ve been teaching math for the past several years. It is teaching in general that I love. Subject matter is important, but it isn’t as important as the love for teaching itself.”

Shortly before he left Hauser, Grimes found himself faced with a moment in life where he realized he needed to make a decision. Though he loved his work at the high school, he was unsure whether he wanted to continue his work in the classroom. And, if he did, did he want to continue teaching in the Hope community or experience something different?

He opted to make what he calls a “wholesale swap” and stuck with teaching but moved from one of the smallest school districts in the state to the biggest taking a position in Broad Ripple with IPS. 

Today he makes an hour-long, backroad drive to his current teaching position in Greenfield where he’s taught for nearly a decade.

During those morning commutes, Grimes says he has plenty of time to think and reflect while enjoying his morning coffee and listening to music or a good audio book.

And it is in those and similar moments of reflection throughout the day that he’s realized just how much he and life itself has changed.   

“I guess my philosophy has changed since I got sick,” he says.

In May 2022, Grimes’ life was upended and thrown into uncertainty and chaos when he was diagnosed with advanced pancreatic cancer.  

“I can remember very vividly the day in the hospital the doctor came in and told me I had Stage 4 pancreatic cancer and about a year to live,” he says. “I was at peace pretty quickly with things and feel fortunate with what I’ve been able to do with my life -- choosing a career I love and being surrounded with great family and friends. So, I was at peace pretty quickly after hearing the news.”  

Grimes’ prognosis of one year was based, in part, on his being so young and in decent shape, which he attributed to a years’ long love affair with running and maintaining an active lifestyle.

A little more than a decade prior to his diagnosis, Grimes noticed he wasn’t in good shape, per se. The extra weight and inches he had accumulated had to go.

Hanover College’s homecoming was just around the corner and Grimes decided it was time to shed the extra he’d acquired and got in shape for the event’s associated 5K. That single decision would impact his life in the moment and for years to come – laying a foundation of fitness that would help save his life.

“I got started with it for my physical health,” he recalls. “I continued it probably every bit as much for my mental health. Without it – truth be told – I would lean on the side of being somewhat depressed.”

Prior to his diagnosis, Grimes would run about 1,500 miles per year.

Thankfully, further tests proved the initial diagnosis wrong and the disease had not progressed as far as doctors thought.

Following an aggressive treatment regimen, Grimes has been in remission since the end of January this year. Of course, the love and support of his wife of more than 30 years, Kami, and their children have been instrumental in his fight, remission and recovery, he says.

Today, he runs three days a week, sometimes four, he says. And, though he still suffers with the lingering effects of aggressive chemotherapy, he supplements the missing miles with using a stationary bike, row machine and hiking.

“I am convinced running helped save my life,” he says. “It’s been great.”

Grimes says he currently lives his life in three-month increments. Once he gets a clean report from the doctors, he breathes easy for a couple of months until it is time for his next three-month check-in.

“The last month before the next round, I kind of get a little bit nervous and anxious,” he says.  

The gravity of confronting his own mortality created a seismic shift in his philosophy that ultimately gave way to personal and spiritual growth.

“Being more aware of my own mortality has changed things considerably,” he says. “I still get mad and upset on occasion, but I can diffuse myself so much quicker than I used to and have a much greater ability to put things in perspective quicker than I think I did before I got sick.”

And as his patience has increased, so has his appreciation for Williams’ quote.

“As cliché as it may sound, it’s the whole ‘you never know,’” he says.

Looking ahead to the future, Grimes says he is nowhere near ready to retire.

“When the day comes for me to retire, I won’t really retire,” he says. “I won’t be one who retires and plays golf every day.”

In fact, you’ll likely see him out in the great outdoors.

“I love to be outdoors in some capacity, whether it is mowing or doing projects outdoors.”

Just this past summer he and Kami coached one of their grandson’s baseball team, “which was pretty cool,” he adds.  

He says he’s very much looking forward to also continuing to be involved in their grandsons’ activities and lives.

No matter where he goes or what he ends up doing, Hope and its people have made an indelible mark on his life for which he will forever be grateful, he says.

“I am incredibly thankful to the Hope community and Hauser for my fondest memories of teaching,” he says. “And the many friendships that developed from that experience.”   

And, for those who read this, he humbly offers sage advice. 

"Find something to do that you are passionate about," he says. "Find that something you would love to do that is rewarding and do it."