Springfield College Student Leads 5K Race for Former Somers High Teacher

Johnny Poitras at 5K road race in Somers.

Springfield College sophomore Johnny Poitras.

By: Dennis Hohenberger (Courant Community)

Illumination and empathy were the cornerstones of Ray Suzor's teaching at Somers High School.

The second annual Let's Glow Run 5K for Suzor honored his teaching legacy and his work on behalf of Shriner's Hospital in Springfield, Massachusetts.

Despite soggy conditions, runners and walkers took to the track at Somers High School, on July 22. Glow sticks partly illuminated the track. Runners were given a glow in the dark wrist bands for each completed lap.

Suzor, who taught chemistry for more than 50 years in Somers and in Longmeadow, Massachusetts, died unexpectedly in 2015.

The 5K was founded in 2016 by former student Johnny Poitras, a sophomore at Springfield College. He recalled Suzor, who was 75, often told students he would teach until he was 100 years old.

"He was the best teacher I ever had because I never had a teacher be able to challenge me, or make me want to work harder at the same time," Poitras said.

He added Suzor expected his honor students to put in a solid effort.

"I got the results and I'm not a smart science kid," he said. "He did an amazing job."

He said the glow sticks would have likely triggered a lesson from Suzor, including a full lab demonstration.

Poitras, who is on the track and field team at Springfield College, said the 5K brings people together, a fun and healthy event for the community. He added that Shriner's was an important part of Suzor's life.

Scott Sutter, of the Southern New England Athletic Association, said last year's run raised more than $2,500 for Shriner's, which attracted more than 200 runners and walkers.

"It was a lot of fun and we're trying to replicate," Sutter said.

Though the weather was not cooperating, dozens of participants lined up at the starting line. Sutter, the organizer, said 900 glow sticks lined the course. A portion of the proceeds will also support a fitness trail in Field Road Park.

The half-mile trail in the park loops around 20 acres. Fees from past event events and races funded the trail project. The park hosts a 5K road race every Wednesday, at 6:15 p.m. He added the name Suzor evokes fond memories from former students, recollections that span generations.

"He was this storied personality," Sutter said.

Chris Boucher, the director of Recreation for Somers, said the town partnered with Sutter's organization for the event. He said Poitras approached him last year with "fully fledged" plan to hold the 5K in Suzor's memory.

"It resonated right away," Boucher said.

Boucher was a student of Suzor for three years. He said Suzor often talked about the good work Shriner's Hospital performed.

He added the track makes for safer conditions, particularly during the evening hours.

"It's very much a family event," he said. "Anyone can participate in this event, from five to 85."

Besides lessons in the periodic tables and conducting chemistry experiments, he said Suzor taught students about empathy, a healthy compassion for others. His father's license plate has the word empathy on it.

He first learned of Suzor entering his freshman year of high school. He and his father were stopped in a parking lot in Longmeadow. He heard a tap on the window. A person asked if Boucher's father was Suzor.

The person saw the empathy license plate and thought it was Suzor's car.

"The first lesson he (Suzor) taught us had to do with a biological lesson. He made a correlation to empathy and talked about the importance of empathy," Boucher said. "As much as he was a science teacher, he was also a philosopher. He was kind and compassionate."