Carly Glowacky was at Sacred Heart University, fencing for its Division I program and frustrated at the intense level of competition, when she called her old high school coach asking for advice.
This wasn't unusual. Basically everyone felt comfortable going to Coach "Kuv" -- Alan Kuver -- for pointers. He was kind, Glowacky said, giving of his time, encouraging and precise. But last December, in her first year at college, the answer to one of Glowacky's many calls came in a different form.
"I was at this meet at Sacred Heart" in Fairfield, Connecticut, she said, "and I hear this voice behind me. And I'm like, 'Kuver, what are you doing here?' He said he wanted to stop by and see how I was doing, and he stayed there, just talking to me and watching."
"I didn't know he had been diagnosed then. When I found out, it was a shock that he would make that trip when he was so sick."
On Tuesday, Kuver, 47, a technology teacher and fencing coach for the Huntington school district, died after a nine-month battle with esophageal cancer. Both intensely private and intensely loyal to his students, he told few about his illness and taught right up to the final week, his mother, Joan Kuver, said. He only stopped then because "he couldn't rely on himself to get up in the morning," she said.
"He said the kids didn't deserve that. They had projects to finish and they needed someone who could help them."
Born in Cocoa Beach, Florida, Kuver moved to Huntington as a child. He graduated from the district, attended the erstwhile State Teachers College at Fitchburg, in Massachusetts, and soon after returned to Huntington to teach at the high school and J. Taylor Finley Middle School. An avid fencer since seventh grade, he also took on the mantle of fencing coach for the boys and girls varsity teams.
Mike Fabio's baby-sitters were fencers on Kuver's team and brought him to a practice when he was in fifth grade. "I was a little peanut and I hear this big voice behind me and there's this big guy and he says, 'You're going to be a fencer,' " said Fabio, now Huntington's assistant fencing coach. "It scared me a little, but from that scary first moment, it became a best friendship."
Fabio, 29, started fencing shortly after. A substitute teacher at Huntington, he owes his current path to Kuver -- he's setting out to be a physical education teacher. "He just liked things done the right way," he said. "He was an unbelievable mentor."
Kuver mentored many of Suffolk's fencing coaches, said Kathleen Kolakowski, the Whitman coach. She first met Kuver at a tournament as an eighth-grader, 18 years ago. Though he never technically coached her, Kuver also never technically stopped coaching.
"Kuv is the person who guided you as a fencer, no matter what team you were on," she said. "The greatest thing about Kuv was that this never stopped once you left school . . . He taught so many of us how to be better people, how to be good coaches and teachers. He was the person we all went to for anything -- he always had the answer and knew what was best. He was the voice of reason."
He was a teacher until the very last days, Joan Kuver, of Lakeland, Florida, said. "He carried on," she said, "and, in addition to good medical care, I think the reason he was able to do that was because of the interaction with the kids -- the give and take -- it was authentic."
It touched so many people, she said, that Huntington students held a candlelight vigil and told Kuver stories outside the school just hours after he died. "It was charming and overwhelming, heartfelt and sincere," Joan Kuver said.
Because Kuver liked things to be so precise, he would get annoyed when people took shortcuts, Fabio said. He was strong-willed, his mother added. He was sarcastically funny, Glowacky said. None of that waned from the hospital bed.
"I went to see him the day before he died and the day before that," Glowacky said. "And even though he was out of it because of the drugs, he was still defiant and laughing and giving the nurses trouble. And that was beautiful. He was really, really special."
In addition to his mother, Kuver is survived by his father, Robert Kuver, of Stockton, Massachusetts; a brother, Adam, of Haverhill, Massachusetts; and six nephews and nieces.
Visitation is at M.A. Connell Funeral Home in Huntington Station from 2-4 p.m. and 7-9 p.m. on Friday. A memorial service will be held at 1 p.m. July 12 at the Congregational Church of Huntington.