“Behind every great man stands a great woman.”
How many times have we heard that phrase?
And as I read the book “Kennedy” by Bill O’Reilly, the phrase might be altered: “Behind every great man stands lots of women.”
But this column is about something a little different, yet related.
I believe behind every great person stands a great teacher.
Many probably think that I should have said great “teachers” but I think everyone has had one teacher play a key role in his or her life.
I can’t remember every teacher from my classroom years.
Ella Jo Callahan was my fifth grade teacher, mostly. She filled in for a nun that became ill mid-year at the parochial school.
Abraham Lincoln was president that school year. OK. Mrs. Callahan isn’t that old.
She taught me that teachers don’t have to be mean. Teachers don’t have to slap your hands with a ruler, verbally abuse you or dump your messy desk on the floor to teach.
Today, I would probably be classified as a Title 1 kid. I was enrolled in remedial reading classes and summer school.
Mrs. Callahan told me that, despite what the other teachers said about me, I wasn’t “lazy.” Well, most kids didn’t have to chop ice on the horse tank, haul water to the pigs and milk a cow or two before school each day.(Yes, I have turned into my father.)
My junior high years were horrible. The only teachers that I really enjoyed were Gil Green and George Missimer.
Coach Missimer was my golf coach and my shop teacher. He taught me how to build things because—based on all the aptitude tests given to me in those days — I was destined “to work with my hands.”
College? Not an option for me, according to those early tests.
Coach Green, my P.E. teacher, had a hard time keeping me on the basketball team due to eligibility issues. One day he broke up a fight between me and a fellow student outside in the commons area. As Coach Green and I walked back into the school together, he didn’t take me to the office or scold me.
“You really had him pinned down,” he said.
Coach Green probably taught me that move during our wrestling unit in gym class.
Somehow I survived the junior high years and moved on to high school.
Principal Ken Brown taught me to follow the rules. There was no gray area.
Edna Edberg tried to teach me Latin.
Eugene Carlile guided me through four years of woodworking which was my major since I was going to “work with my hands.” He taught me the three most important things when working in a shop: safety, safety, safety.
He would hold up all 10 fingers and was proud that he still had them all. Many shop teachers had lost a digit or two over time. A couple years later, he did snip off part of his thumb, though.
Leonard Harzman taught me welding, wiring and that when firing up the kiln, don’t wait too long before hitting the start key. We didn’t blow the lid off the kiln, but let’s just say it bounced.
John “Maddog” Morando was one of my first high school coaches. And he was lovingly called Maddog by his players.
Robert Chatham was my biology teacher. He taught me that evolution and Christianity co-existed in his world.
In Greg Wade’s class was where I learned my gift of argument. Many years later, my daughter was taking a class taught by Mr. Wade. The first parent-teacher conference ended with me saying, “Here we are 18 years later, still arguing.”
(I was the winner in that particular argument, by the way.)
But that one great teacher for me was Jenelle Cowen.
She was an English/journalism teacher. Dale Pyke a friend from the golf team, recruited a bunch of us sophomores to take the journalism course and, well, here I am today.
After a car accident which broke my back when I was a high school senior, I was told that I wasn’t going to work with my hands afterall. I was going to have a desk job.
Ms. Cowen taught me that I was somebody and that I was important. She shocked the faculty my junior year by naming me editor of “The Booster.” She, more than any of my previous teachers, had faith in me.
There were some memorable teachers in college like Pete Souza, official White House photographer for President Reagan and now President Obama.
Last Saturday I was at a conference will Bill Brown who was one of my journalism professors at K-State. He covered the Clutter murders made infamous by “In Cold Blood” while he was at the Garden City newspaper.
Brown said Saturday that he and Truman Capote got off on the wrong foot. It seems Capote wanted to visit with Brown but the newspaper was on deadline. Brown made him wait.
Some things in the newspaper business haven’t changed in 50 years.
And if Bill Brown can do it, so can I. If we’re on deadline and a visitor pops into the office, he’s going to have to wait.
During Teacher Appreciation Week, think of that one teacher that was behind you becoming who you are today.