At Large with Tom Williams >> Remembering some more inspiring teachers

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A couple months ago we published tributes from some people you may know about teachers who influenced them. We received so many that we offered some more a few weeks later. This week we bring you the final three accolades to memorable teachers.

John Cranston: I attended Ocean City schools through June 1964. I consider myself fortunate to have been there then as there were many wonderful teachers who were inspirational. Many of them were World War II veterans who had gone to college after the war and used the GI Bill to become teachers. All had lived through those war years.

In the lower grades there were Berwyn Hughes and Dave Streaser. Both of these men were strong role models for a young boy. They showed me that learning could be fun which was a new concept to me at the time. Junior High exposed me to the incredible Katharine Ogden. She was a wonderful teacher and more importantly, a wonderful person who took an active interest in her student’s lives outside the classroom. In high school there was Scott Johnson, whose Physics class was the best I ever had. In addition there were Charles Baker, Fred Haack, John Rosebury and Fenton Carey. Each of these teachers inspired me and helped me become a man.

But the best and most inspirational teacher I had was Dixie Howell. He taught me about leadership and being part of a team. He showed me that leaders also have to be prepared to follow when the need arises, and that no one person is more important than the team. The lessons I learned prepared me to be successful in college, the military and life in general. He literally made everyone around him better. My Dad told me one time that if I had to model myself after another person, Dixie Howell was the best choice. Outside of my Dad, Dixie is the best man I have ever known.   

Tom Getzke: When I think back there were several teachers who made a great impact on my life but more importantly there were teachers who truly helped form who I am as a person. Even in the second grade, there was Mrs. Henry who allowed this skinny kid to stay warm helping in her room after lunch. She could have picked anyone but I just knew she picked me as I was struggling a bit to adjust to my “broken” home. When that situation righted itself I found myself in another town, in eighth grade with a history teacher named Mr. Wright. The debates in his class stimulated us for days and I began to consider education as a career path.

My freshman year included a great bunch of teachers from Jim Schafer's civics lessons to John Schaffer’s history classes. Both were also my freshman football coaches so their influence was profound. "Cool E" – George Evinski – was there as well, and truly helped make high school enjoyable. I'll return to high school in a minute but I must jump ahead to Mr. Filimon, my college Shakespeare professor in my senior advanced literature course. Incredible plays, stories and novels came alive with his delivery.

Now back to high school, there was one teacher who had me coming home and proclaiming that I was going to be an English teacher and that was William Roccia. That’s why I was in a senior English literature class in college, it was Mr. Roccia's impact on me. He was a huge man with a ready yardstick, a booming voice and a stroll around the classroom similar to that of a lion ready to pounce. It wasn’t threatening, though – it demanded your attention because he had much to say. Whether it was the curriculum, or just his life message, he would not leave you until you clearly understood. Until my very last classroom lesson as a teacher myself, I emulated most of what he taught me and after 33 years in the profession wish that at least once I had shared with him how much he contributed to my life. Sadly, I didn't but hopefully there are thousands out there who enjoyed his style through me. I can think of no greater honor as a teacher or parent than to have others passing along your teachings. 

Jerry Fadden: I will let my mother, who died way back in 1957, provide the words for my tribute to Kathryn Ogden (KO).

She sat in the front row in church next to my Dad when I got married in 1966. In college, when I was at Penn, every month for all four years a round tin of ginger snap cookies would arrive. But even more, a $20 bill inside, hoagie money for a month. In high school, she made Christmas dinners for me and had me and my prom dates over for pictures.

She saw to it that I had some degree of safety and normalcy in high school. My four years of high school were trying. On several occasions, when I was in danger at home, Miss Ogden allowed me to stay with her at her house on Battersea Road. Once, during my sophomore year, I even slept in the back seat of her Dodge during the school day because I couldn’t safely sleep at home.

In short, KO became my mom.

In 1952, my mother, my brother and I moved from Philadelphia to Ocean City, a town where we had summered for years. We moved because my dad was an alcoholic and our collective safety became an issue. I eventually ended up in sixth grade with KO as my teacher. Truth be known, I really wanted Berwyn Hughes as my teacher because he was much cooler – he played the drums and knew about basketball plays. Miss Ogden would teach me “round, round ready touch” and the Dewey Decimal System.

As fate would have it, I went on to seventh grade and, wouldn’t ya’ know it, Miss Ogden was promoted to seventh grade and was my teacher again. During that time KO and my mom got to know each other. And KO certainly became aware of the problems that my mom was dealing with regarding my father and his monthly visits to Ocean City. Then, in March of my seventh grade year, my mother was diagnosed with cancer. By September of 1957 of what was to be my eighth grade year, Mom knew that she was dying. I later learned that my mom contacted KO that September and asked KO to visit her at Shore Memorial Hospital. Mom knew that my brother was leaving for college that next year and that I would be left alone to cope with my Dad. Mom knew that my four years of high school could get really bad. So, my Mom gave KO a lavender scarf, which I now have, and asked KO to “please take care of my little boy”.

Mom died that November.

And so back to the words I needed, the words spoken by my mother to KO – “please take care of my little boy”.

Somehow my mom sensed something in KO that was different, that spoke to a depth of character and caring that would see me through. But why did she ask KO?

Is there a higher honor than, as a dying parent, to ask another to care for your young child? And after 55 years, how smart and perceptive my mom was. KO never once failed me.

Kathryn Ogden, you did good…you took care of this little boy.

*********

Words of Wisdom: “The dream begins with a teacher who believes in you, who tugs and pushes and leads you to the next plateau – sometimes poking you with a sharp stick called ‘truth.’”

(Dan Rather)


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