Three great teachers & a bottle of Coca-Cola

Who had the most positive influence on you as a child? This week’s Story Worth.

Of course, I would name my parents as the most positive influence on my life, and the gang of friends I grew up with shaped my personality, but these were more ongoing and generalized influences and I have written about them elsewhere, so let me mention on event and three great people.

Things go better with Coca-Cola for more than fifty years

One early inflection point, not really positive, is when I started regularly to drink Coca-Cola. I choose this because it has a date certain. It happened on February 23, 1964. We were at some kind of family party at my Aunt Florence’s house (I am less sure about the location than the date). The kids were relegated to watching TV. I wanted to watch “Scarecrow” on the Wonderful World of Disney. My cousins Barbara and Mary insisted on the Ed Sullivan Show. Seems that an obscure pop group from Liverpool was making its American TV debut. Who knew? The Beatles, as I recall the name. I got some Coca-Cola as a consolation. I liked it. Since that time, I have been a big consumer of Coca Cola. As an adult, I kicked into big time.

I have been drinking 2+ liters of the stuff each day for 30+ years. Coke hydrates, despite what you might have heard. When I was in Iraq, the Marines made fun of me for taking a supply of Coke with me on our dry desert sojourns. People say you must drink water; they are mistaken.

Great teachers at Bay View High
As for living influencers, I would mention three teachers – my swim coach Richard Czarapata, my English teacher Miss Reilly and my advanced biology teacher Mr. Hosler.

Coach Czarapata – the gift of lifelong fitness
Coach Czarapata kept me on the straight and narrow for my three years in HS. I admired his commitment to the sport I identified as my calling in HS. He always approached us with dignity and respect. The only time I thought that he dropped the ball was just after my mother died. He consoled me, as he should have done, but then he elided to the swim team. I would have appreciated his telling me that the team was there for me, and I am sure that is what he meant to say, but what he did say was something like, “I hope this will not effect your commitment to the swim team.” Too soon. I edited this in my mind, and it was okay.
Glen & Ken likely recall the Coach with similar fondness.

Miss Reilly – the gift of artful language
Ms. Reilly was my senior English teacher. She was one of those very old (very old = probably about my age now) maiden teachers, the kind you see today only in old movies. I was a poor student in an advanced English class full of better ones. I had the excuse that I see now that it was a tough year with my mother dying, but she did not know that. She was tolerant of my obvious failings and thought I was smarter than my record and my insouciance would imply.

I was an outsider in the class. Besides my less than stellar study habits, many of my classmates knew each other over longer periods. They were what we might today call higher achievers. When I ended up getting decent grades, there was a little surprise among some classmates. I did not perceive it, but Miss Reilly did. Suddenly, classmates got more friendly and supportive. I heard from colleagues that she has spoken to some of them, explaining how I managed to do okay. She told them that I had talent for putting ideas together in writing and that I had potential.

Not sure what else she told them, but it worked. I am sure that the more than the temporary bump in esteem among my classmates was the fact that Miss Reilly did it and what she said. That I got it second hand made it more credible and in retrospect helped add color to the map of what I thought was my skill set.

Phillip Hosler – the gift of becoming a conservationist
Finally, was my advanced biology teacher Phillip Hosler. He made a serious effort to mentor his students. A second year of biology was optional at Bay View, so everybody in class was there voluntarily. It showed in the enthusiasm, and the level of commitment. I felt more comradery with these classmates than in any other class. Mr. Hosler helped create this atmosphere. Mr. Hosler introduced me to Aldo Leopold, which influences me still. He arranged for field trips to natural areas around Baraboo. We spent a week on Blackhawk Island. He took us camping up in the north woods around Eagle River and he sent me and some classmates to a “Trees for Tomorrow” camp. It is the first time I used a dibble bar to plant trees. I also helped him dig a bog in his back yard. We visited Cedarburg bog and he wanted to make a small version in his own yard. As I recall, he lived in New Berlin. I had to ride my bike out there.

Cast a giant shadow
I can still feel the influence of these three teachers. I don’t much swim anymore, but I have kept a regular exercise program ever since those days. The habit stuck. Not sure how much writing I learned in Miss Reilly’s English class, but it was in that class that I first identified myself as a writer. It was an embryonic thought, one I can recognize only in retrospect, as I wrote above, the little stone that changed the course of the river. The Hosler legacy is perhaps the most evident, but I should point out that it flowed underground decades and would not have been evident.

We can see farther because we stand on the shoulders of giants
None of us are self-made and I am grateful for all the help I got along the way. I did not keep in touch with any teachers from HS. Not sure if it would have changed anything. I graduated almost a half century ago and none of my great teachers were young back then. I don’t doubt that they have all long since shuffled off this mortal coil, but they are not forgotten. I wonder if any of them would have remembered me. I expect not but feel no regret about that. I am sure that each of them helped dozens, hundreds or maybe thousands of young people like me. That’s enough accomplishment for one lifetime.

My first two picture are Bay View HS. Next is BV football field followed by a couple pictures of rain in Humboldt Park, just for balance.