In Memoriam: Ivailo Dimitrov (1966-2017)

December 21, 2017 by American College of Sofia

Pic.6_At Faculty Follies in 2010 - Phorograph by Konstantin Karchev '15

Rest in Peace, My Love!

Dr. Zornitsa Semkova, ACS History teacher, Mr. Dimitrov’s wife

Ivo was my beloved, my husband, the father of my child, my best friend, and my colleague, for twenty eight years, during which we lived, studied, and worked together. We were at each other’s side for so long that for decades we had lost track where either of us ended and the other began.

Mr. Dimitrov, Ivo, Ivcho, was unique in all of his forms. A student of his once jokingly asked him to be more humane, which he instantaneously countered with, “I am not humane, I am a humanitarian.” He was both, however. He was my walking multipurpose encyclopedia for history, cinema, music, art, and sports. He undertook everything eruditely, be it work or hobbies, with passion and attention to detail. He adored his profession, the College, his students, and playing table tennis.

Ivo sought out and treasured the inner light in the hearts and minds of everyone around him. He was unshakably loyal to his family and friends and was always ready to strike up pleasant conversations with good people. Vulgarity, cynicism, and ignorance disgusted him and often fell victim to his phenomenal sense of humor, as well as serving as a goad that inspired his sardonic works.

Ivo liked and knew how to enjoy himself, to travel, to love, and he lived life to its fullest. I think it was the class of 2001 who gave him a T-shirt, embroidered with a phrase he often used to repeat in class: “Attention, we are wasting precious seconds!” He never wasted them, not a single one, neither in class, nor in life.

Rest in peace, my love!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Ivailo Dimitrov and Zornitsa Semkova, 2013


A Man for All Seasons

Dr. Richard T. Ewing, ACS President

Of all the many fine people I have come to know in the ACS community, Ivo stood out as a man for all seasons: a scholar, thinker, writer, speaker, coach, teacher, colleague, friend, devoted husband and father.

As a scholar and a teacher, he possessed both a deep understanding and an encyclopedic knowledge of Bulgarian history and culture, which he reveled in sharing with his students and colleagues. Remarkably, almost all Bulgarian graduates of ACS since our school’s reopening 25 years ago had Ivo Dimitrov as their teacher. And even more remarkably, he could, and would, tell you about each and every one of them. He was a teacher who knew his classes, knew his students, and deeply cared for all of them… and the feeling was mutual.

Ivo was one of those rare people who combined high-caliber intellectual gifts with a fierce competitive streak (he started, developed, and led the ACS table tennis team to national level excellence for both boys and girls) along with a great sense of fun and enthusiasm. He knew how to savor life. Such a man – devoted to family and friends, dedicated to students and their development, and devoted to preserving and passing on the rich heritage and culture of his country – creates and shapes a school environment. Ivo shaped the ACS that was re-born 25 years ago and reestablished since that time as a truly great school. We often speak of the extraordinary qualities of ACS students. Let us now praise the remarkable man and exemplary educator, Ivo Dimitrov, who did so much to teach, guide, and mentor our students and graduates!

pic.4 Mr. Dimitrov and the rest of the faculty taking part in the Fund Razor initiative, 2013

Mr. Dimitrov with the rest of the faculty taking part in the Fund Razor initiative, 2013


Alumni and Former Faculty Remember Ivo

Mr. Dimitrov was hands-down the best historian I have ever had the pleasure of being lectured by. While many would slumber due to the depths he went into, I would have gladly traded in most of my other classes for more 12th grade History with Mr. Dimitrov. I love history to its fullest extent. By extension, I loved Mr. Dimitrov’s classes.

Mr. Dimitrov was my best friend’s table tennis coach. He could easily go into the most complex of historical topics while playing against any of the best table tennis players in the College. He was strict when he needed to be and just as hilarious when he didn’t. He was a true intellectual, the kind of man whose knowledge could simply leave you stunned. His humor was refined and spot on; it turned what were otherwise very serious and complex topics into something unique. His articles were as much fascinatingly detailed and well written as they were a pure joy to read for anyone interested. An indulgence in passion very few historians or authors have ever made me feel.

During his classes, I did not feel like I was in one of the toughest high schools this side of the world. I was right at home. I didn’t care about grades or finals, I just wanted to hear more.  His academic and objective attitude left a deep impression on me and has been one of the guiding lights in my academic career as an international lawyer. I can write thousands of words explaining why I respect him so much, why I feel like I learned so much from him, and this for a man I barely knew outside of class. I feel I need not say anything more.

I will miss him greatly.

-Goran Georgiev, Class of 2012

P.S. The materials he wrote for 12th grade History should be available for every Bulgarian to read.

***

One of my favorite moments was at the beginning of the school year in 12th grade. My profile was Humanities, so I had History (regular class) with Mr. Dimitrov and History (elective) with Mrs. Semkova. When introducing us to the material for the school year, Mrs. Semkova told us that we will cover the material from the 1300s until the present in the History elective that she taught. She said, “The idea is that Mr. Dimitrov will teach you the history of Bulgaria since its beginning until its fall under Ottoman rule, and I will teach you the history from the beginning of the Ottoman rule until the present. Whether he will actually get to Bulgaria’s fall under Ottoman rule… we’ll have to see. He hasn’t managed to get that far in previous years.”

When introducing us to the material for the school year, Mr. Dimitrov said, “We will begin with the state of the Balkans before Bulgaria was set up and we will learn Bulgarian history all the way until the fall under Ottoman rule. Well, probably we won’t get that far… I will try, but I haven’t managed to get that far in previous years. With that said, let’s stop wasting precious seconds and get started! I’ve written the outline here on the whiteboard…”

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Mr. Dimitrov at Faculty Follies, 2013

In the end, we didn’t quite get to Bulgaria’s fall under Ottoman rule, but I learned so many interesting facts in the process. Bulgarian history has never been so interesting as when Mr. Dimitrov (as well as Mrs. Semkova) tells it with all the anecdotes and logical links not written in the textbooks. Even today I remember some of those fascinating stories, and I tell them to my international friends. They often remark, “Wow, you really know Bulgarian history in depth!” And I think, “That’s because it was taught to me like a fairytale with amazing passion by Mr. Dimitrov.”

It was very nice to talk to Mr. Dimitrov about history, life at the College and after, and what not. Even when he didn’t have time he found time to talk to us, his students, whenever we needed advice. What a unique human being!

-Mariya Manahova, Class of 2010

***

I recall this one time, an early morning, we had History with Mr. Dimitrov the first period and I was falling asleep. Mr. Dimitrov came to my desk and said to me something along the lines of: “You’re sleeping through history, you’re sleeping through the present, at least make sure you don’t sleep through the future. Think about it and go back to sleep.” Sounded annoying to me at the time, I did not know better. Only after some time, I realized he had been right, as always.

-Alexander Karolev, Class of 2007

***

Mr. Dimitrov was my History teacher in 10th and 12th grade and taught us European and Bulgarian history. Though the nature of his subject required us to remember a great deal of dates, and the right consequence of events, Mr. Dimitrov had his unique way of making it not only very interesting, but funny as well. Whether it would be with short quips such as, “following the French Revolution Louis XVI grew shorter by one head,” or his general anecdotal and witty commentary of historic events, Mr. Dimitrov always held mine and my classmates’ undivided attention.

Mr. Dimitrov’s youthful charisma and sense of humor made him so relatable to his students, that it was easy to love his teaching style and personality. I love history and always looked forward to stepping into his classroom. What made Mr. Dimitrov so special is that you were excited to be in his classroom and to talk to him, even if you were not particularly keen on history.

He was one of those teachers that I loved talking to on a variety of topics – history, film, and of course table tennis. He never declined a request for help on history, keen to spend his time with each one of us. Whether it was in our History classes, or during our senior dinner at the end of 2010, Mr. Dimitrov simply loved spending time with his students, and that meant the world to me.

Mr. Dimitrov’s unique teaching style, charismatic personality, and very natural likeability makes him one of the most fantastic educators I have ever known.

Rest in peace, Mr. Dimitrov. For those of us who knew you, you will never be forgotten or replaced!

-Nicola Nanev, Class of 2010

pic.3_With ACS President Dr. Paul Johnson at the Alumni Reunions, 2011

With ACS President Dr Paul Johnson at the alumni reunions, 2011

***

It was the beginning of our last year at ACS, when every student would storm into the classrooms to pick the seat that would be theirs throughout the school year. We had already heard some scary stories about how strict Mr. Dimitrov was and how he filled the whiteboard with the tiniest handwriting one can imagine. However, my friend and I had decided that we were going to pay attention in class this year (our last one, after all) and we picked the front row desk in the middle.

Unfortunately, our History classes were placed first morning block on particularly tough-schedule Wednesdays, every senior’s worst nightmare. Pulling all-nighters on Tuesdays became a tradition and not a forgiving one and every Wednesday morning during History class, as I was sitting right in front of Mr. Dimitrov, I would rest my head on my right hand and start dozing. Every time I would wake up after hearing my name, my heart beating fast, only to see Mr. Dimitrov’s disappointed look. During the small five-minute break I would go out and eat my daily apple to wake up. I am telling you, this apple had some magical power over me and the second period I was unrecognizable. This happened every week.

One time Mr. Dimitrov asked me: “Okay, Nelly, I get that you have a lot of work and you are sleep-deprived but why on earth won’t you eat that apple before the first period?” Good question, Mr. Dimitrov, a very good one indeed. One of the many I wasn’t able to answer.

I was not good at History; half of my test made the exam howlers (Mr. Dimtrov’s famous biseri collection) after the first semester, but I didn’t have to be good at History to respect a teacher like him and be respected back. Thank you for everything – for helping us become thinking individuals, and not sounding boards. Thank you for being not only our teacher, but also our friend!

-Nelly Afzali, Class of 2017

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

At Faculty Follies rehearsal, 2010

***

“Every second is precious. We shouldn’t waste a minute on empty words! We should move forward!” Those are words that every ACS student has heard. Those are the words I also often catch myself saying. And every time I say them, I recall both the image of Ivo and the atmosphere he created in the classroom – creative, inspiring, productive, and compelling. Ivo was a natural at encouraging, teaching, and if necessary, even disciplining. With his encyclopedic knowledge and rich experience, Ivo guided not only students with ease through the complex labyrinths of Bulgarian and world history, but also introduced me as a newbie to the College, taught me to be better, changed me. Our walks around the campus, the stories he told me of students, teachers, even the history of individual buildings and rooms – everything was fun and enlightening.

Sharing a room with Ivo for three years was, no doubt, a challenge and a blessing. We would sometimes begin a discussion in front of the students and I would read in their eyes how much they enjoyed the heated conversation between two teachers with different points of view – these discussions I miss now. Really quickly, we formed a team and started helping each other, learning from one another, exploring together new technologies and practices in the classroom, grading tests together. We became friends quickly, naturally, sharing good and bad news, everyday life and important events. Ivo and Zori became part of our family. My wife used to say I seemed to have a funny story a day featuring Ivo. She, too, loved how he appreciated every minute of his life, not wasting any, “a most noble knight of modern history.” We both miss Ivo dearly.

-Vasil Ninov, ACS History teacher (2014-today)

***

“Starting something like Faculty Follies in a country outside of the United States always poses some interesting challenges. One of the first ones that I experience everywhere I go is the inability, at least in its early years, to get host country teachers to participate. However, Ivo had no such hesitation. For the first Faculty Follies at ACS, Ivo was the only Bulgarian to participate in a solo act, and only one of a few to grace the stage that year. Ivo was born ready for that stage and he rocked the mic that night with one of his poems and participated in every FF afterwards. There is no folly there, just pure class.”

-Michael Branch, ACS ELL teacher (2009-11)

***

Indeed Mr. Dimitrov participated in every edition (2010-2017) of the hilarious adored-by-the-students teacher talent show Faculty Follies (with a worthy cause, too, as the money raised by selling tickets go to the Protected Home Together Foundation). While in 2012 and 2017, Mr. Dimitrov toiled making literary-philosophical analyses of the lyrics of a song by pop-folk star Preslava and Bulgarian pop’s teen sensation Gery-Nikol respectively, in 2015 he even went as far in the shoes of his students, as to author pop-folk song lyrics, a brilliant piece called Values, which we wouldn’t be surprised to catch on the radio in a Sofia cab ride, should anyone in the pop-folk industry get their hands on it. In 2013 and 2014, Mr. Dimitrov participated with a golden collection of student howlers (known as biseri) – imagine the hours he must have gladly spent over the years putting those in a safe place, – while in 2016 he recited his own poems, one of which he admitted to writing especially for the Class of 1999.

We include it here, as according to Mr. Dimitrov “it could be applied to any ACS class, really, its sound is sort of universal.” At the show in 2016, Mr. Dimitrov recalled with affection how the poem came into being, how the Class of 1999 had invited all teachers to the Auditorium on one of the days between the finals and their graduation, to surprise them with various awards at a special Academy-Award-like ceremony. The best possible occasion and audience for Mr. Dimitrov’s poem Doubts (?), originally written in Bulgarian, here translated by Georgi Iliev:

 

Съмнения (?)

 

Когато с мойта историческа секира

повалям ученик след ученик,

във себе си понякога се взирам

и питам се: „Защо го правя мъченик?”

На сън ми се явяват колежани,

след теста гаден, със отчаян вик!

Посърнали, наежени и разревани,

един след друг, със нервен тик.

И често се събуждам сред кошмари,

на мойта съвест зъл съдник,

обхванат от съмненията стари:

„садист ли съм или пък неразбран комик?”

Но следващият изпит се задава!

Еуфоричен съм отново и велик!

И демонично, със запретнати ръкави,

на пишещата си машина сядам в миг.

И скоро с трескав поглед ставам,

споделяйки поредния ужасен трик,

а Зора снизходително ме наблюдава

и цъка съжалително с език.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Ar Faculty Follies in 2011

 

Doubts (?)

 

Whenever my historian’s axe

Cuts student after student down

I turn my gaze inside and wonder

Why do I send them off to martyr town?

After the sucky test, with cries bewitching

The students show up in my dreams –

Dejected, bristling, weeping,

Marching in a line, and twitching.

And often nightmares wake me up,

To harshly judge my own intent:

The old doubt: am I a sadist,

Or simply a comedian they just don’t get?

But a new test is coming fast!

Again, I’m euphoric and so great!

And demon-like I roll my sleeves

And type away, oh it’s a blast!

And promptly, fever-eyed I rise

To reveal this thing of dread,

While Zora gives a patient look

And shakes a disapproving head.

 

***

 

Thank you, Mr. Dimitrov, we’ll never forget you. It has been a honor and a privilege. And so much fun!

Materials Collected by Petia Ivanova ’97

 

Advertisements
%d bloggers like this: