"Devoted to education," Longtime Milwaukee educator dies of COVID-19 complications

Posted at 10:47 PM, May 18, 2020

A man who dedicated more than 50 years to education in the City of Milwaukee has died of coronavirus complications.

78-year-old Alton Townsel was described as a lifelong educator. Coworkers and family said he worked for Milwaukee Public Schools for nearly 40 years, serving various roles including principal positions at Alexander Mitchell Integrated Arts School and 27th Street Elementary School.

He also worked at Brown Street Academy, Hopkins-Lloyd and Pierce Schools.

"We literally couldn't walk into a store anywhere without someone saying, 'Hey, Mr. Townsel,'" said Townsel's son Andre.

For the past 15 years, he was the Chancellor at Holy Redeemer Christian Academy.

"His life was principally and wholly devoted to education," Andre said.

When schools started closing for coronavirus concerns, Andre said his father focused on keeping the students engaged.

"He was concerned about the parents, making sure they had the resources and the computers and the online instruction," said Andre.

Andre says his father was working until April 4, when he went to the hospital. He passed away on May 10.

"He gave it a champion fight trust me, he was trying his best to come out of that situation and we were praying diligently," Andre said.

In a statement, Milwaukee Public Schools wrote in part, "The district is grateful for his years of service for our students and families. Our condolences go to each of his friends and loved ones.”

The Townsel family was able to say goodbye. They held a funeral at Holy Redeemer Institutional Church of Christ on Sunday. The funeral was live streamed on Facebook, and many people sent in video tributes.

"He would ask me if I was keeping my grades up because Townsel's get all A’s," said Alton's grandson, Jonathan.

Alton grew up in Alabama before moving to Milwaukee to start his career in education. Holy Redeemer Bishop Sedgwick Daniels wrote an obituary for Alton that reads in part,"His pursuit to overcome cultural and societal barriers afforded him stellar accomplishments and recognition as a public school teacher and administrator."

Andre says he doesn't want anyone to go through what his family has, so he asks that people follow the rules and respect each other's health and safety, just as his father would.

"He saw intrinsic value in people, and that was I think the essence of his life and what made him so loved, so beloved," Andre said.

Alton leaves behind his wife, son, two grandsons and his sister.

Report a typo or error // Submit a news tip

Coronavirus in Wisconsin

More data on Wisconsin's vaccination progress here.

Find a vaccination site here.

Check out county-by-county coronavirus case numbers here.

More information: COVID-19 on the Wisconsin DHS website

Latest news and headlines here.