HUDSONVILLE, Mich. (WOOD) — Jordan Beel leans back against a concrete wall at Hudsonville High school. Here at the center of the school, four halls meet at a square meeting place. As class gets out and students start to flood the space, he keeps his laidback stance.
He smiles and waves, giving high fives, calling them by name. A young woman with Down syndrome calls him back to her locker and snaps a selfie of the two of them together. She gives him a hug before he leaves. He said that she gives him a hug every day.
The constant visibility is an important trait the principal learned from his dad.
“I try to emulate the things that he did that I knew were great and then try to be myself as well,” Beel told News 8 later, sitting at his desk. “I can just be me, I can never be him.”
While he does blaze his own path, now in his second year as the principal at Hudsonville, Beel is following in his father’s footsteps in many ways.
“I think he was a relational leader, he was a servant leader, he was great with people, with families, with students,” Beel said of his dad. “The thing that I’ve heard them say is he was visible. He was around, he was in their classrooms, he knew students.”
Beel’s dad was a first-time principal at Hudsonville in the late 1980s and early ’90s.
“I’ve been called Joe. My dad’s name was Joe. I’m Jordan. So it’s pretty close,” Beel laughed. “That happens sometimes. They’ll laugh about things that happened with him and I get told that I resemble him a lot: ‘You sound just like him.’ I’ve heard that before too. I take it as a compliment.
“This is my second year here and I think that coming back here feels kind of full circle. I guess that’s the word I’ve heard a couple staff members use, that were hired by him and may end up retiring with me as their principal. They think that’s kind of cool.”
Joe Beel died in January 2016 at the age of 62 after fighting prostate cancer for nearly 12 years. He was an educator for over 33 years, spending time as a principal at Hudsonville, Northview and East Kentwood, where he went to high school. Beel said on the day of his father’s funeral, East Kentwood canceled classes because so many from their community wanted to attend.
“It’s been hard not to have him as I take on this role of being a head principal because he would’ve been great to bounce things off of,” Beel said. “I think he would’ve been proud.”
Sitting at the same desk his father once did, Beel joked about being a wisecrack high schooler at Hudsonville. He never dreamed he would get into education and fill his dad’s shoes. But he remembered being a young boy and bouncing off the cinder block walls of the offices. It was those days that drew him back to Hudsonville.
“It was formative years for me,” Beel remembered. “The football players were my heroes, the basketball players. I look at some of those times with my dad that were the most fun were being here and being at sporting events, going to a wrestling meet, going to a volleyball game, going to football on Friday nights. Now my kids get to do that with me.”
Life for Beel has come full circle.
He misses his dad each day and wishes he could stop in for a cup of coffee or a phone call to get his thoughts on the hard questions. But his father left reminders of what’s important. He filled hallways and hearts with life lessons.
“He was a note writer and a book giver,” Beel said with a smile. “He was really good at writing a message in a book and giving you one. So I try to look back on those things.”
Tucked away at his corner desk, Beel keeps a note given to him from his dad nearly a decade ago. Nine years later, he still has trouble reading through it without getting emotional.
“It says: ‘Jordan, congratulations on your new calling. Hopefully, when you retire and reflect on your career, you will realize what you did was much more than a job. If you practice the foundations of leadership, built on relationships, love, service and sacrifice, you will successfully touch countless lives. We are proud of you.’” — Beel can’t finish the last part without choking up — “‘Love, Mom and Dad.'”
“He’s in my heart here,” Beel said. “He would be anyway no matter what, but it’s even more special that I get to be in the same role and do my best to make him proud, even though he’s not around to talk to.”
Beel falls back on his wife for support and the teachers around him; teachers his dad once hired, who taught him and now work alongside him. He said it was actually those people — not his parents, who were both lifelong educators — who got him into teaching.
As he walks around the school, though he may not even know it, he interacts the same way he describes his dad: walking into classrooms, taking the time to interact, and serving those around him. After all, he is his father’s son.