My article of early August highlighted the contributions to our community made by students I’ve had in my classes who chose to stay in the twin towns. But since then numerous other great students who’ve settled here have come to mind and deserve recognition. So here goes:
My first teaching venture was with a group of St. John’s eighth graders under the direction of a very likeable priest, one Fr. Sauer. He saw me shooting baskets and asked if I would like to make some money teaching some of his boys’ basketball. Since I was an SSS student, perpetually broke and living on day-old bread and tap-water instant coffee, I jumped at the chance to make a few extra bucks.
Among that group were three remarkable standouts, Tommy Richels, Larry Brunkhorst, and Lance Wolf. I knew little about coaching; I was planning to go into game biology, but hanging out with these interesting young guys made me think that maybe teaching would be fun. Lo and behold, ten years later and having my first go at teaching English at Science, who do I see sitting out there among the engineers but Tom Richels and Lance Wolf. And a couple years later who should be my mailman but Larry Brunkhorst. Lance went on to excel in basketball and education.
I mentioned Tom’s success as an engineer in my first column, but today in the Daily News I read about Brunk’s carp and sucker tournament. Now that he’s retired from mail carrying, Larry’s become very involved with introducing young people to the great outdoors. From this you can see how Providence takes a hand in our lives. One never knows how a “chance” encounter may open doors to careers, contacts, and connections. I see none of this as coincidence, but rather divine orchestration for purposes yet to unfold.
Another group I’d like to highlight are the older than average students who decide to come back to college to further their education. The first of these was a lady well over fifty by the name of Phyllis Gripentrog. At first I was a little uneasy about whether she would fit in or even be able to keep up with the younger crowd seated all around her. But boy, was I wrong. She turned out to be the best student in that class — always prepared, always attentive, and a reliable source of wisdom and experience that made the young people very much admire her and respect her because of her kindness and helpfulness. A couple of years later her son Clark appeared in my class. He now teaches at Circle of Nations; and last Sunday at the Chinese restaurant Clark walked over and said, “you know don’t you that you actually got me to like Shakespeare.”
Now that’s the kind of feedback every teacher loves to hear. And to carry the connection one step further, Clark’s brother Dave sold me about five of the cars I’ve bought and has become one of my dearest friends. You see? Connections do have legs. No meeting is without significance, and no student without talents aimed at a future God is preparing for him.
The Indian School has introduced me to some very special people: Carol Chryssler was in my class back in the 1960s — she’s now a good friend of my wife. And Emit Eastman, also from back in those days went on to become very influential in Native American circles. One book discussed back then was Black Elk Speaks. I gave my copy to a very congenial clerk at Econo Foods named Osue. I just felt that book would give him perspective on the kind of struggle his people have endured. Re-reading the book, I was astonished at what a pivotal book that is and what a cosmic vision Black Elk had way back in the time of Custer. And, amazingly, just last week I heard that the Catholic Church is considering making Black Elk a saint. There are indeed passages in that book that read like scripture.
Brevity tells me to stop here. Perhaps I’ll be given the opportunity to write about more of my memorable students in other articles.