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English teacher remembered for her passion, humor, and kindness

By: Sara Falls 

 

Luke Drager was known throughout the school for her animal and human rights activism and for her kindness and humor.  While many found her “tree-hugging” nature wild or funny, the truth remains that Drager’s compassion and passion for life were always more important to her than simply doing what was expected by society.  

    On October 16, Drager passed away after losing a battle with metastatic melanoma.

    Drager came to Lincoln in 2002 after the closing of McAteer high school and taught Tenth Grade English and American Literature for the past 15 years.

    Most of those 15 years were centered in her strikingly warm second floor classroom full of color, art, plants, books, and artifacts of her travels.

    Shamira Gratch, English teacher colleague remembers Drager as “one of the most well-read people” she knew and a “treasure trove of information” when it came to literature.

    Gratch also says, “Luke was a kind, sensitive, honest, and passionate soul. Luke had an open heart and easy laugh.”

    Many colleagues, in remembering her, mentioned her knowledge about literature but also about a number of other subjects.   

Former Lincoln English teacher Ramany Kaplan says, “She shared her old bread recipes with me…She lived such an interesting life!”

Current English teacher Max Van Engers fondly reminisced about an English department gift exchange.  “Luke went all over the city to various bookshops because she was intent on purchasing one particular piece of tennis literature…When Luke finally presented me with [the book, she] went on to describe to me the inexplicable, almost religious, forces at play in a well-constructed tennis point…that kept her attention and gained her admiration.  I never spoke about tennis in such a philosophical manner before.”

Drager traveled extensively over the course of her life.  She volunteered with the Peace Corps in Venezuela and then throughout South America and the Caribbean.  She also taught ESL in Korea.

Her daughter, Andrea Drager says, “She saw her mission as a teacher as not just that of instilling an appreciation for and facility with the written word, but also as that of developing global conscientious citizens."

    Jack Doyle, another member of the English department says, “I appreciate all the random conversations I had with Luke in the 200 hallway and whenever I would stop by her classroom (which always looked great [by the way]).   She was sweet with the kids, and she had a cool relationship with the world.  It was a comforting presence for me.”

    She received her English Literature degree from University of Washington and studied in but never completed a doctoral program at UC Berkeley in her “enduring passion” comparative literature.  She got her teaching credential from University of Maine and taught in Maine for several years.  

Jesse Davidson, ELL teacher, who also got her degree from UW, remembers talking to Drager about seeing Ken Kesey and Timothy Leary speak.  “She identified with the beat gen and told me she was in love with Allen Ginsberg at one time when he was super hip and relevant.  So she definitely felt akin to counterculture movements of the 50s and 60s.”

That connection fueled Drager’s activism.  She organized the first gay-straight alliance at the rural high school in Maine where she taught in the early 90s.  And throughout her time at Lincoln, she was involved in the Animal Rights Club and ran the Amnesty International club which, among other actions, involved students in a letter-writing campaign for political prisoners.  

She also brought the SF Art & Film Program to Lincoln.  Ronald Chase, the founder of the program, says that, in her last year at Lincoln, she encouraged 160 students to attend free events with them.  “She was a great believer that exposure to the arts can make real differences in students’ lives. Her love and dedication to her students was really exceptional, and we always felt she exhibited all the values and virtues of a really great teacher.”

Jacqueline Medrano, one of Drager’s students who participated in SF Art & Film recalls the experience of being in her class.  “I remember how agitated she would get when we didn’t get the storyline, but it was because she wanted you to cherish the book as much as she did. She wanted you to see the beauty of the book… She listened and remembered the things you told her and would give you heartwarming gifts, even if it was just a notebook.”

“There was no better advocate to have on your side than Luke…” said Bobby Crotwell, English teacher.  “She would go the distance for you if she thought you were right.”  

Fan Fang, Chinese and science teacher says, “Luke represented Lincoln and went to China to attend an international educational conference paid for by the China's ministry of education. She gave an excellent presentation of how she taught English language arts in an American high school. Her presentation was recommended as an important reference to China's K-12 education administration for their language teaching reform plans.”

English teacher and Lincoln Log advisor, Sara Falls, says, “She was a truly unique person, a real character, funny but also so reflective and honest.  She made me laugh all the time.”

    “Luke was my neighbor for a couple of years on the second floor of the main building,” writes Jay Fraser, retired English teacher.  “I came to appreciate her warm and generous spirit and the strength and sincerity of her beliefs. After all these years, I still smile when I think of her, and though this is stunningly bad news, the thought of her is making me smile now. I hope her family, friends, and colleagues can also enjoy their good memories of her in this very sad time.”

    Elizabeth Gladding, English teacher, reminisced about Drager’s generosity and spirit.  “I remember when Luke gave me her timeworn first edition copy of ‘The Beans of Egypt, Maine.’ We talked at length about that book and of rural places we inhabited as youngsters, how we missed those places at times. Remembering helps.”  

    Drager wanted her body donated to science and did not want a memorial service.  However, if you would like to share a memory of Drager for possible publication in the school’s yearbook, visit bit.ly/2yw0rsD

    She is survived by her two daughters, Romelia and Andrea; one granddaughter, Leonie; and two cats Zipporah and Lafcadio.