Rockford students rally behind substitute teacher after his wife dies in fire

ROCKFORD, Mich. -- It was an incredible showing of support for a Rockford teacher on Wednesday.

Alan Combs is a retired police officer turned substitute teacher for Rockford schools. His students call him 'Sarge.' On Friday, his wife, Beverly Combs, was killed in a house fire. Combs' son, Major Aaron Combs, was deployed in Iraq at the time and came home on emergency leave for the funeral.

On Wednesday, Rockford students lined up outside the funeral home for Beverly's memorial service to let their teacher know he's not alone.

Combs was overwhelmed by the love and support from his students. He didn't know the students were going to come to the service. The students say they were devastated when they heard what happened and coming out on Wednesday was the least they could do for the man who has done so much for them.

It was a bright moment in the midst of a dark time on Wednesday.

"He's fun, he's upbeat, he's kind and caring," said eighth grade student Olivia Devries.

64-year-old Beverly Combs was killed Friday in a fire at the family's home in Cannon Township. Alan and the family's two dogs survived.

"He's not afraid anymore," said Alan's daughter Shannon Buys. "I think the realization of the impact that he has had on people's lives is what is blowing his mind the most. He's always loved to teach. He's always loved kids. He's never had quite this type of thanks."

Buys says the community has rallied behind her father and has offered to help in any way they can.

"It's just those tiny things that are those glimmers of hope and in this stupid craziness of a world in which we leave we have to do those kind little things for each other," said Buys.

Beverly Combs is being remembered as a loving mother and grandmother with a heart as big as Texas. She's leaving a hole in their family that's impossible to fill.

"I think once he realizes that this isn't a short term 'thank you' he's going to keep getting better," said Buys. "He will always miss my mom. They were together 44 years."

When Sarge's students heard the news they jumped into action to make sure their teacher knew he was loved.

"He does so much for Rockford and I just wanted to show appreciation for him," said Devries.

"He's always there for us and I wanted to show much we love him," said eighth grade student Morgan Colegrove.

The cause of that fire is still under investigation, but Buys says investigators believe it started in the garage. Beverly's funeral will be held Thursday at the Crossroads Church in Rockford.

If you'd like to help out the family, they ask that donations be made to the Wounded Warrior Project or Kids' Food Basket, two causes that meant the world to Beverly.

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