Cory Bentley, the science teacher and yearbook adviser at Trinity Middle School in Archdale, North Carolina, was advising his eleventh yearbook when he passed away unexpectedly after a brief illness on March 9, 2023. The sudden death of the 36-year-old husband and father of two young children came as an incredible shock to his students, both current and former, his school, as well as the entire Trinity community.
What happened next is a remarkable tribute to the man who loved creating yearbooks and loved his students even more.
In the shock of Bentley’s passing, one way his staff and former editors processed their grief and remembered how he loved and supported them was by helping his staff at Trinity Middle School finish their 2023 book.
Stepping Up to Help
It all began when Nicole Guilliams and Abigail Todd got involved. Guilliams is the yearbook adviser and science teacher at Trinity High School, while Todd is her current editor-in-chief and one of Bentley’s former editors-in-chief. Both of them instantly knew they wanted to honor Bentley by helping his staff finish the book.
“When I first heard the news of Mr. Bentley’s passing, I immediately thought of the yearbook. Of course, I didn’t want to intrude or rush into anything without time for grieving, but I knew he would’ve wanted the yearbook to be complete. When I went home, I asked my mom if helping out with the yearbook would be a good idea. From there I asked Ms. Guilliams what we could do as the high school staff, and everything fell into place,” Todd said.
Guilliams immediately reached out to the middle school principal and volunteered to help in any way she and her staff could. She knew Bentley would have done it for her staff. He trained two of three of her current editors, and both of their parents still work at Bentley’s school.
“The kids at TMS at that point had lost their teacher and were at a bit of a standstill. In the next seven school days, the students were able to get all the content of the book, photos, body copy, mods, quotes collected. Jordan Hicks, who is a former yearbook student of Mr. Bentley and is currently a student at Randolph Early College High School, even reached out to help and did a lot of checking spreads to see what still needed to be done. The middle school students really pulled together and helped each other out getting all content needed,” Guilliams said.
While the task was not easy, she believed in her mission.
“The last few days before spring break, I was able to go over at the end of the day during my yearbook class and help with taking club pictures and reassigning/motivating students to finish getting content. We told them with all the time that had been lost that if they got all the content, that we would edit it and get it into the correct format to finish up the book,” Guilliams said.
It Takes A Village
It became a total team effort in the Trinity community. The middle school staff and administration stepped in to helped.
Assistant principal Mrs. Lindsay organized their club photo day on one day’s notice. The athletic director provided scores and pictures while teachers and coaches identified students in group pictures. The teachers let the yearbook staff miss classes to get their content collected. The staff put up with constant interruptions the last week of school before spring break as the students were finishing up interviews and mods.
“It was a huge collective effort…and it will be done as close to Mr. Bentley’s design as we can get it. This is all because of the respect everyone has for Mr. Bentley and the knowledge that yearbook was one of his passions. He truly inspired his students to do the best they could, and his legacy will live on in them forever,” Guilliams said.
“Although unexpected, knowing the work was being done made me feel like this is what Mr. Bentley would’ve wanted. At the end of the day, everyone involved was inspired by his vision, and we all did our best to accomplish that,” Todd said.
The Legacy of Cory Bentley
Bentley’s reputation and proven history of care for the people around him prompted this outpouring of support. Those who knew him loved him.
“I absolutely adored Mr. Bentley. He taught me most of everything I know about yearbook. He inspired my work ever since I was in his class. Because my mom worked with him, I was able to sit in his class after school and learn what he had to say about yearbook,” Todd said.
Walsworth Yearbooks Sales Representative Carolyn Henderson knew Bentley as more than just one of her advisers. She also knew him as the former editor-in-chief of Trinity High School’s 2005 yearbook, which was the first year she started working with the school.
“He was such a good guy and was always willing to help other advisers, serving as a mentor for several years, most recently for his own mother-unofficially! He took great pride in providing a yearbook to his students that was well-designed and unique each year. Cory taught yearbook as a class and provided the groundwork for these students to later join the yearbook staff at Trinity High School, where several have gone on to be editors-in chief,” Henderson said.
That early yearbook career in high school served as the catalyst for Bentley’s future career in yearbook. He accepted a job advising in the fall of 2012 at Archdale Trinity Middle School during his first year of teaching and advised there through 2021. When Archdale Trinity split into two schools in 2021, he went to the new school, Trinity, and completed his tenth book there. He was working on his eleventh in 2023. His mother, Media Specialist Shannon Moser, took on the yearbook at his former school, which was renamed Wheatmore Middle School.
As he grew into being an experienced, award-winning adviser, Bentley developed his passion for training other staffs and advisers. He taught as a yearly instructor at Camp Carolina where he passed on his passion and expertise to hundreds of advisers and staffers. He even wrote an article about the importance of middle school students attending yearbook camp for Walsworth’s Idea File magazine. During the past several years, he also mentored other advisers through the Adviser Mentor Program. Most recently, he participated in a training webinar for potential new advisers in the program.
His obituary perhaps said it best.
“Teaching was more than just a career for Cory, it was a passion. He enjoyed being part of the school community and worked hard to give students an excellent experience inside and outside of the classroom. Always holding high expectations for his students and those around him, he pushed others to be their best. He was deeply committed to producing the yearbook each year with a group of students in his yearbook class. Creative and organized with an eye for detail, he created award-winning yearbooks each year.”
Though the grief remains, the way those who knew him have chosen to honor him proves his memory lives on.