Everybody Has a Story: Thankful for the guidance of teachers, others

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Some time ago, I listened to a speaker on TV urge his audience to be thankful for the people who helped them get where they are in life. And not just to be thankful, but to actually tell them how thankful you are.

This got me to thinking of all the opportunities I missed to thank those who helped me. We had a saying in the small village where I lived for a time: "If you see a turtle on top of a fence post, you know it had help getting there." I had a lot of help getting to where I am today.

The moral help came from my parents, mostly by their examples and by taking me to Sunday school and church. Two of my Sunday school teachers, when I was in high school, stand out in my memory. They were Mr. Meyers, the high school principal, and Dr. Curtis, our family physician. Both men taught our group of boys the meaning of living a good life.

The other help came from teachers who stressed the three Rs. Miss Craft was my teacher for the fourth, fifth, and sixth grades. For our reading lessons she would ask each student to read a portion of the story. You had to pay attention and follow along when others were reading, because you might be asked to read the next portion. On the bookshelves in the back of the classroom were books we could read on our own when finished with an assignment. My favorites were stories about Disney characters. This started my love of reading.

For arithmetic, Miss Craft would line us up and test each of us with flashcards with simple addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division problems. After a dozen or so cards, you'd return to your seat, and it was the next student's turn. I am still reminded of this simple method of teaching and learning when I see people who can't make change without the computer cash register or counting on their fingers.

The other R, writing, was and is harder for me. We used specially ruled paper with slanting lines and were told to use arm strokes, not just finger movement. I never mastered the fine art of cursive writing, and to this day I print everything so as to be legible.

Miss Craft was strict, but she also had a softer side. At holiday time, she would decorate one of the blackboards with an elaborate colored turkey or Santa. She taped stencils with tiny holes to the blackboard and patted them with an eraser so the chalk dust filtered through the holes to outline the figure. Then she used colored chalk to fill in the figure. This process of transferring outlines of drawings, called "spolvero," was used by Michelangelo in the Sistine Chapel.

In high school, Mrs. Baldwin stands out as the same type of no-nonsense teacher as Miss Craft. She taught English and literature and a good work ethic. During my freshman year, I sometimes spent my lunchtime with several senior boys. I remember them walking along reciting poetry they had learned in Mrs. Baldwin's class. She had made an impression.

Two of my college professors were memorable both for teaching and financial help. I was attending Ohio State University on the GI Bill, which paid for books and tuition but not much else. Prof. Carl Purtz taught us that calculus and other engineering courses were going to be useful in the real world of work. He also gave me part-time work grading papers and making a topographic map of a lot where he was going to install a swimming pool. Prof. George Large, who wrote the textbook on reinforced concrete, was an excellent teacher and mentor for my master's thesis project. He arranged for materials and fabrication for my test equipment and space in the laboratory to do the work. Both helped me get a small scholarship, also. I thanked them both for their help.

Other financial help came from the Ohio Department of Transportation. After a summer camp of surveying classes, ODOT offered part-time work to any who wanted it. For the remainder of my three years in college, I worked as an inspector on the new interstate highway, did planning survey work for new roads and drew plans for new bridges. With a family, wife and two young daughters, the apprentice engineering work and income were greatly appreciated.

Another big help in college was my best friend, Alan Johnson. We did class projects together and he helped me with the experimental work of my thesis project. He later became the executive director of the Ohio Turnpike. I had the opportunity to thank him for his help and friendship.

After high school graduation, Army service, college, and 31 years in California away from my Ohio home town, I never got to thank Miss Craft for instilling in me the joy of learning, reading, and math. For Mrs. Baldwin, it was somewhat different. She was invited to two of our graduating class's reunions, where we were able to thank her in person for helping to get us up on top of our fence posts.