Thursday, August 13, 2020

Chapter 6 


   I have always enjoyed sports. As a spectator, a player, or coach. At various times throughout my career I have coached girls softball, track, boys basketball, and girls volleyball. My favorite was girls volleyball. 

  My first coaching assignment was for the fourth grade boys basketball program. Not awe inspiring but the kids enjoyed themselves and had fun. Wow what a learning experience. Our first and I might add our only game was with the fourth grade team from Chester grade school. Fourth grade basketball is, for the most part, a scrum of 9 kids surrounding the child with the basketball. Five kids beating on the child with the ball, and four kids trying to make a path for the player with the ball. I don't remember a whole lot about our one and only game with CGS, but I do remember the score was lopsided. CGS something, SJS ZERO. Our goal from the beginning was not to win the game, but to score. The whole game was a comedy of errors. Parents from both sides were really into it. EVERYONE was encouraging us to score. We had had some chances  but now things looked bleak. With less than a minute to go, Chester had the ball at our end of the court and were threatening to score again. Then it happened. To this day I still don't know how,e but Steve Middendorf had the ball and was heading down court.. Parents were going wild. You had the sense that something BIG was going to happen. The whole gymnasium  rose to their feet in anticipation. Steve got to the free throw line...tripped..and fell. You could hear the rush of air as the breath of everyone was exhaled at the same time. Disappointment fell over the gymnasium like a black cloud. However, and there is always a however in life, as he fell, Steve had thrown the ball up in the air. The ball went up and into the basket. You might have thought that we had just won the national championship. The gym erupted in yelling, screaming, clapping, cheering and shouting. Final score, Chester 21  St. John 2. 

   One of my favorite pictures is that of Steve , surrounded by his teammates, holding up the game ball.                                                                             I had the opportunity to coach at both the grade school level as well as the high school level. As of this writing I still hold the record for the number of wins at Chester High School. Combine my high school wins with my number of wins at Saint John, I have a total of almost 500 volleyball wins. 

    Looking back to the early years I think of some of the innovations we brought to the game in this area.   This  was the beginning of the Title IX days when girls were finally getting their opportunity to play.

 We were the first team grade school to move from the nine member team to the current six member team. We ran plays rather than just play "jungle ball”  as I called it. We put names on the backs of uniforms, and warmed up to a variety of music including the favorite warm up for many teams “Jump” by the Pointer Sisters.

    People might possibly say I was intense as a coach.The girls that played for me during those years knew my passion for the game and the intensity with which I coached them. I can't tell you the number of  clipboards that were broken at practices as well as the number of pipes broken and the number of times that heels came off my shoes.  I was referred to as the "Bobby Knight "of girls volleyball.

  Depending on the individuals that made up the different teams over the years they would react differently to my coaching style. Some groups responded more to the "Softhearted Dad" approach while others responded better to my raising my voice at them.

  One of my early recollections was the  first volleyball conference championship that we won against our city rivals, the Saint Mary Hawks.

    We were behind in the first game by quite a bit I asked the girls  what the problem was  they responded by saying "you need to yell at us.“ Tha,t was all I needed to hear. That was the game in which I broke my clipboard, my pipe, and tore the heel off one of my boots. They came back and won the first game.  In the second game  wasn't even close. That team needed intensity. Other teams I tried that approach and all they did was get emotional.

   Well each team has its up and downs, One of our coaches and a former player lost her battle with cancer. She was loved  and respected by the girls. The first year after her death, in her honor, I renamed the Saint John Invitational Volleyball Tournament . It became The Vicki Jany Memorial Tournament.

   During my years as AD, and even afterwards, there was a subject that caused more friction, was more  devisive  than any other activity, that activity is known as cheerleading. 

   Cheerleading, as I saw it was simply an opportunity for girls to stand around at a ballgame and preen. There was always something happenning that resulted in more drama thanwas  needed. There was controversy over uniforms, length of skirts, color of uniforms, even how cheerleaders were selected. We ran the gamut on that one.

      Cheerleaders were selected by the students, by the staff, by a combination of student/staff. Cheerleaders from other schools were asked to judge and select cheerleaders. We even let anyone who wanted to be one, be a cheerleader – utter chaos. We actually had more cheerleaders​ than players that year.

   For one or two years even had  a separate squad for girls who wanted to cheer but didn't make the cheerleading squad. This was the Dance squad. For my money they were actually better than the cheerleaders that year.

   But God has a sense of humor because for the last three years my grand daughter has been on the cheerleading squad at the Lutheran High School South. Ironic isn't it.

Friday, April 17, 2020

Chapter 4 First Year, First Class

First Year, First Class  

 The first year was an exciting one. One filled with a lot of surprises, both good and bad. That year I met the first of many classes. One that I will always remember. The class consisted of 27 children, the largest class I had over the 41 years. Their characteristics and attributes ranged the gamut.
   One cute girl would not stay in her seat. One was a boy in an adult body. He was a “Gentle Giant”. In fourth grade he was heavier than me, he was taller than me, and wore a shoe size larger than mine. Then there was another student who, as it turned out was a neighbor of mine. A young lady who turned out to be the daughter of my landlady.  There was, Kenny, Dale, Pam, Wendy, Valerie, and 18 others.
   K. The daughter of a prominent physician, just could not stay in her seat – answer – duct tape – problem solved  (106 uses). T.  was a very gregarious young boy. To his credit he still is – solution – A baby pacifier – problem solved.

   On a side note he turned out to be an excellent athlete, better in high school and college and turned out to be an excellent educator and administrator. I was and remain very proud of him.
   Over 41 years I had many students and I remember most of them. Tragically, more than thirty of my former students have passed away and gone on to their eternal reward. I know that when my time comes, God has a class waiting for me.
  I learned a lot that first year perhaps a better way to say it would be matured. I learned that you don't take away nuisance toys and then auction them off to the same kids at the end of the year. Even if the money went into the chapel offerings. I learned that you don't say yes to raccoon hunting in the middle of the night. I learned you and your friends don't ride motorcycles through your landlords fields of alfalfa even if you didn't know what alfalfa was other than one of the kids stars in the our gang series.
    I learned how easy it was to hit a 12 inch softball onto the roof of the school while playing softball with the students at lunch recess.
   I learned how much I loved teaching those children about to love Jesus had for all of them. I can remember all the children in my first class and the last two classes. I remember children from the other years but which particular class they were in, but sometimes not even their name. I love all of them, well most of them anyway, even the names of the more “challenging” students.  The best thing about it was that even some of the most difficult ones grow up to be young Christian men and women with a good purpose in life and become productive members of society.
     We did strange things in those days. Things which if we did them today we would find ourselves in serious trouble
   We also were able to put an arm around the student and tell them what a good job they had done. We also were able to hug a child who was having a rough day.
     I remember the day when I had to tell my staff no longer would they be able to "show that same affection titheir children due to the changing child protection laws.
   I remember when chewing gum and talking in class were among the worst things a child could do. Today you have to check for guns or drugs or which child may be being abused at home. 
  And, most importantly,  I learned the difference between being their teacher and their friend.

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Chapter 3 First Trip to Chester

    First Trip to Chester

   ​The excitement of call night had passed and Nancy and I finally moved on and had accepted our fate. And so we began to make arrangements to make the move to Chester. Our  first priority was find a suitable house or apartment.
     Our contact down in Chester was the current pastor. Pastor R. Pastor R was relatively new to Chester himself but seemed to be very knowledgeable about the area so we made plans to drive down to Chester.  Pastor R and his wife offered to host us for the weekend so that we could do some house hunting.
     We made plans to head to Chester in early June. My first day on the job was to be August 15th so it was necessary for us to find a place, pack up our stuff, move it to Chester, and settle in to our new digs.
​The drive down took forever and although the scenery was beautiful, eight hours was just too much. Finally in the early afternoon we arrived. The school was an older structure built in 1913 with the church, built in 1849, across the street. On the corner, across the street from the church, was the parsonage, or pastor’s house. It was a two story, white, colonial structure. The exterior was well maintained and as we soon found out the interior was beautiful and tastefully decorated by Pastor’s wife.
     Pastor was an “okay” guy. He was very likable and down to earth. He liked his beer. He met us at the front door of the parsonage with a bottle of Stag beer in each hand. He shoved one into my hand and took a drink out of the other.  We exchanged pleasantries and talked a bit. What a difference years can make. I remember my most important question at that time was not salary, not insurance coverage, not even my teaching assignments. Being a cub fan from Chicago, my biggest concern was “can you pick up WGN television?" I quickly learned two things number one you cannot pick up WGN. Number two I now lived in the territory of the Chicago Cubs arch enemy, the St. Louis Cardinals. 
   After dinner pastor took me out for a quick tour of the town. We made it as far as an establishment known as Wittenbrink's. This was a bar right out of the 1920s the main bar was approximately 30 feet long complete with the jar of pickled pigs feet and pickled eggs. There were additional roundtables with wooden chairs. This appeared to be the meeting place of many of the local men in town.
     After visiting with the locals for about a half hour we returned to the house pickup pastor's wife and Nancy and begin the search for a house.
     The selection of living quarters left a lot to be desired. The first quote unquote house  was basically an above ground dungeon. The only thing missing was a skeleton in chains hanging from the walls. We looked at several places after that but none of them that the requirements that we were looking for, a living space suitable for humans.
     Finally, we came upon a two-story house that was being used as an income property. The main floor was great. Wooden floors, fireplace, pocket doors, crown molding. The biggest drawback was the kitchen which, if you stood right in the middle and stretched her arms out, rotate slowly, you could probably touch all four walls. But it was a nice place that we have been to and we decided that's where we would take up residence. There was one stipulation, and that was the house was for sale. Had we known at that time that the asking price was only $12,500 we would probably have bought it. But we didn't and we were quite happy to simply rent it.
   The rest of the weekend went by smoothly, we attended church and met many of the teachers and parishioners and parents and headed back to Chicago Sunday after church. Things were beginning to come together and we actually were beginning to look forward to packing and making the move to our new home in southern Illinois.
     Move over Popeye!
         My call as fourth-grade teacher was to begin on August 15. We had all her belongings packed and had rented  an apartment coincidently to my sister-in-law and her husband whom I had gone to school with since first grade.  They were actually moving in as we were moving out. My wife is a neatness freak and as we left the house, it was spotless. But that did not stop my brother-in-law's mother from cleaning everything she had already cleaned as we moved the furniture out.
    The saddest part of the whole move was the fact that I had to sell my 64 Chevy Impala super sport with inverted chrome wheels, a 409 engine, reverberation audio, a truly hot car. As a replacement we bought a 1970 Dodge Dart Swinger. With the Dodge dart swinger packed to the gills and a rented truck antennae and a few friends headed south to Chester.
     Arriving late in the evening we unpacked and settled in to our new home. We were in the house for half an hour when there was a knock at the front door. It was pastor he was aware of the fact that we were arriving that evening. He welcomed us, and then informed us that the house was sold and we would have to move. An unpleasant word formed in the back of my head.
     It would be hard to accurately describe the disappointment Nancy and I felt at that moment. We had no idea where we were going to live and I was to begin work in two days I begin to wonder if the above ground dungeon was still available. Pastor said that he would be back in the morning and we would begin our house hunting all over again. With nothing more to do that evening we prepared for bed surrounded by unpacked boxes.
  I must preface this next part by saying that as we prepare to move to Chester, Nancy had asked the question "what would we do in Chester?" My response to her was simply that we would sit out on the front porch and listen to the grass grow. Okay, now you have to remember that Nancy was a city girl. As we lay in bed that first night in Chester she heard, for the first time in her life, crickets chirping. She looked over at me and in all seriousness asked me," is that the grass growing?" I laughed so hard that I felt out of the bed.
     And so began the first year of our 40 plus years in Chester.

“Call Night”

 Call Night – May 10, 1970. To quote President Roosevelt, “A date which will live in infamy”. After four years of college we approached the event that changed Nancy and my life forever- Call Night.      Call night is the night during which all eligible teaching candidates hope to receive a teaching position. A committee tries to match congregational needs with the available candidates based on interviews of all perspective candidates. Sort of like the NFL draft. Draft the best talent when your turn comes up. Anticipation was high that evening but so was the concern. This was due to that fact that this year more candidates were available than were positions.     This was an exciting prospect. The Procedure was referred to as the “cattle call”. Students proceeded to the front. Received their envelope with the call documents in it and returned to their seat. Where the candidate would unceremoniously  rip open their envelopes to see where God has place them. This was referred to as the “Divine Call”.    Now in my case, God apparently had a sense of humor. The girl on my left received a call to Hawaii and the girl on my right receive a call to the International School in Hong Kong. Bursting with anticipation I opened my envelope. Now crazy thoughts went through  my mind at that moment. A call to the Virgin Islands? Tahiti? Never mind the fact  that there were no Lutheran schools in the Virgin Islands or Tahiti. My imagination was running wild. I looked at my call documents and there, in bold letters, were the two words “Chester, Illinois”. Oh well, not Hawaii, or any other exotic location. A thought crossed my mind  at that moment and  fortunately it remained unspoken, “Where in the hell is Chester, Illinois”. Nancy and I had been hoping for a call in the Chicagoland area. I had done my student teaching at St. Phillips and would have liked a call there. If not there perhaps a suburb of Chicago like Schaumberg or Arlingtion Heights. No one around me had ever heard of Chester, Illinois. I began to worry.    As the program came to a close Nancy and I went out to our car and rifled through the glove box for the   map  of Illinois. Ah ha! Shoved behind the old napkins and other junk was the map. Pulling it out and spreading it out on the hood of my car we began to search. Finding nothing in the suburban Chicago area, we expanded our search into an ever widening circle. We began to explore the southern Illinois area, which everyone in the Chicagoland area considered to be Springfield. Again nothing. We expanded our search farther south to what was considered the unexplored area of   true southern Illinois.  Our search was over. There it was, a tiny little dot along the Mississippi River about 70 miles south of St. Louis – Chester. Nancy began to cry. My wife was a homebody and had not travelled any great distance from Chicago and was very reluctant to leave her family and be banished to the hinterland known as Chester, which upon some research we found was known for two things, Menard State Penitentiary and for being the “Home of Popeye”.  I don’t even like Popeye.

Where in the Hell is Chester Illinois? 


Even today, I still have no idea how it happened that I became a Lutheran school teacher. It never was a part of my master plan, which assumes that I actually had a master plan. All I really can remember is finding myself standing in the “Quad” , in front of the pillars which adorned the main entrance to the administration building of Concordia Teachers College in River Forest, Illinois. I remember one question kept recurring in my mind, “What in the hell am I doing here?” During my four years of high school I cannot honestly say that I thought about the idea of becoming a teacher and how much of a difference I could make in the life of a small child.

Over the next month or so I became very familiar with those pillars. Freshmen were required to live on campus in a dorm which in itself was not that bad but we were also required to wear an article of clothing called a “beanie” as a part of orientation week. Today this activity might be considered hazing and deemed illegal. I don’t remember being asked to do anything we were required to do as bad as some of the things students are expected to do on larger campuses. My first “task” was to guard those pillars holding up the front of the administration building and prevent upperclassmen from “stealing” them… RIGHT. Okay, really? Six columns, standing 30 feet tall, made out of one sort or another of stone or concrete, this can’t be ALL bad. However, and there’s always a however in life, failure to complete the task meant singing the school fight song in the cafeteria.
My shift was from midnight until 4 a.m. Okay, I WAS READY no one but no one was going to get those 20-ton pillars past me! My four-hour shift came and went we no incident, or so I thought. I had done my job. The sacred pillars were secure for another day. The seniors charged with the safekeeping of the pillars showed up shortly after my shift and explained to me that I had failed my task. Okay, let’s see, I don’t recall seeing the pillars being smuggled by me – something, incidentally I believe I would have noticed, even at four in the morning. So I turned to make sure that I hadn’t overlooked something. Yep! There they were! But now, in the early morning light I could see it. A sign, hanging over the fa├žade of the building emblazoned with the words “THESE PILLARS HAVE BEEN STOLEN”. You are kidding me? “Nope” , I was told. They were gone. Stolen right out from under my nose. Next stop… cafeteria “On Concordia, On Concordia… .”