Ken Drake was an artist, but not just as a sculptor.

He also was an artist at teaching students, at reaching kids and unleashing their creativity - and by doing that, at creating better people, his Hammonton High School students say.

Drake, who lived in Mays Landing, died last month at 65. He taught for 27 years in Hammonton, mostly art and art history, but his fans say he was such an artist at his job that he really taught something else.

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"I'd credit him with teaching me how to see," says Jacqualynn Knight, 34, now of Woodbury, who studied with Drake for four years in Hammonton - but figured she could see just fine before high school.

She graduated in 1995, "And after all these years, most of the art work I can identify by heart probably came from him," says Knight, who kept studying art at Boston University. She took a dozen or so classes - sculpting, oil painting and more - with some fine professors and talented artists.

Now, she makes her living as an artist. And for that, she thanks her high school teacher.

"It would have been wonderful if he'd affected me that way, or a handful of kids," Knight says. "But I imagine there are dozens of students, if not hundreds" who feel the same way.

Ken Drake changed another life at Hammonton High in a whole different way. He met his wife, Jane, there, when he was a veteran art teacher and she was the new kid teaching special education.

"It was my first teaching job," she says, "and he'd help me out, take some of my duties. He was a good disciplinarian, and he tried to help any way he could."

Yeah, the beloved teacher was also an artist at keeping kids in line, she says - at making them want to act properly.

"I think they liked the fact that he was pretty strict with them," Jane says. "They really respected him ... And he had the discipline himself because he was in the Army for seven years."

In a previous life, the artist/teacher was a U.S. Army captain. He was a helicopter pilot in Vietnam, an experience that affected him for the rest of his life.

"He loved art, he loved teaching, he loved his country and he loved his family," says Jane, explaining that they were a blended family - each was married before. Ken had a son and a daughter, she had a son, then they had a son together.

Their boy's middle name is Klay - the idea of his dad, the sculptor.

Oh yeah, Ken really was an artist, a serious one. He did the large bust of Christopher Columbus that has stood proudly in Hammonton since 1992. He had exhibits at the Noyes Museum of Art, and created more art that's on public display around Hammonton.

He was widely respected for his sculpting, but clay wasn't the only thing he had a gift for shaping.

A Life Lived appears Tuesdays and Saturdays.

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