Man smiling

Remembering Paul Luikart


Students and colleagues reflect on the kindness and mentorship of “the Hagrid of Williston”


Paul Luikart built a career at Williston that began in 1997, teaching science in both the Upper and Middle schools and coaching judo for many years. In his subject area, chemistry, Paul was encyclopedic, but his interests and life experience revealed a Renaissance scholar’s breadth of knowledge, and he was an absolutely devoted mentor to his students and advisees. For most of the past decade, Paul taught exclusively in Whitaker-Bement. In a recent tribute, Middle School director Jen Fulcher reflected on Paul’s legacy: “Paul’s passion for science and teaching are what got him out of bed every morning. No matter what the day before threw at him, he would make his way across campus to the Middle School. He had to be there to show those kids how amazing and fun life and science are.”

A Vermonter to the core, Paul’s presence on campus was unmistakable and it did not take much to elicit his broad smile by asking him about a canoe trip or fishing expedition or his daughter, Bella ’16. Paul retired from Williston at the end of the 2021 academic year, following remote work during the heart of the pandemic, and passed away in January 2022 after a long battle with cancer. Here, we share a selection of memories about Mr. Luikart from the students and colleagues whose lives he impacted.

“I’ve never felt as supported by a teacher, coach, or mentor as I did with Paul. I thought of Paul sometimes as the ‘Hagrid of Williston’ because of his many fantastic pets in and outside of the classroom and his deep appreciation of the forest, but looking back I think it was Paul’s warm nature, unflagging devotion to his advisees (and students), and easygoing demeanor that truly sparked that connection.”
—Bryan Perley ’10

“A great mentor and kind person, he shaped me for the better. I am very lucky to have had him in my life.”
—Jason Albanese ’20

He was my sensei. I remember many stories he told about his experience in the Peace Corps in Sierra Leone. He taught me many, many lessons about dealing with anger and conflict through judo. He sent me a fishing lure with a really nice letter when I was studying abroad in France my junior year, and I tried to wear the lure as a necklace but it almost gouged a hole my neck! His solid, positive kindness helped me with my own personal struggles. He changed my life permanently, for the better. I also thought of him as the Hagrid of Williston!”
—Kate Vasicek Challis ’04

“Mr. Luikart cared deeply for his students. He was not only an amazing science teacher, but also taught his students about more than just the class or practice they were in. He was one of the reasons the Middle School was such an amazing place.”
—Andrea and Keith Adams, P’12, ’17

“Mr. Luikart was an absolute gem, kind and approachable in such a distinctive way. I can’t for the life of me imagine the patience this man had in teaching chemistry to this stubborn, distracted teen, but he did it with grace and humor.”
—Andres Sweek ’00

“I was a student of Mr. Luikart’s from 1999 to 2002, when he was my dorm parent in Logan House, as well as my judo instructor, chemistry teacher, and mentor. Suffice it to say that for those of us who lived in his dorm, the term ‘dorm parent’ was no metaphor. Thank you for everything.”
—Chris Hammel ’02

“It was a privilege to know Paul and always inspiring to watch him teach.”
—Peter Valine, former Dean of Faculty

“Mr. Luikart was a warm, kind, encouraging teacher who went above and beyond to make sure I understood a difficult concept.”
—Ilana Panich-Linsman ’02

“He was a very kind and humorous person, and always had a smile to keep things light. He made me comfortable being away from home halfway around the world. I still remember going up to him asking for advice on anything and he’d happily discuss and share his thoughts. He was not just a teacher but also a great mentor and a friend whom I’ll miss. —Jason Leung ’00