Wednesday, February 10, 2010 9:47 AM CST
I recently went to a funeral for an old friend. She was 97 years old and only struggled in the last few of those years. Before the effort it took her to exit this life, she had spent a lifetime of clear thinking and planning. It seemed she was totally in control and I suppose it was her masterful ability to or-ganize everything in her life that made her stand out to so many of us. Those of us who were pallbearers stood in the church foyer talking and reminiscing about Almeda. We soon discovered that we had all been asked to be a pall bearer at this funeral, about 10 to 15 years ago, by her personally. We talked about the impact she had had on all of us and hundreds of others of us, long ago when we were children.
You see Mrs. Hurlocker was our country school teacher. I was fortunate enough to have her for grades 1 through 5, after which she went to another school. I don't have the exact figures but I think she taught about 20 students spread out over the eight grades, all at the same time.
While attending "Tobin" School District 19, I don't recall having any free time to dally. I was always busy doing assignments. Each grade would take turns coming up to the bench by her big desk to receive instruction and the work she expected us to do in the next hour or so. If we needed some help, an older student would be asked to pull up alongside and take command of the problem we were having. I don't believe this was a bad thing for either the "student" teacher or the student having trouble. By this we learned that we can all have trouble in certain phases in our life and we can all assist others out of their dilemmas. This all took place before political correctness, it was for us to learn the lesson well that if we tried hard we could succeed and if we loafed, we were going to lose. But say what you will, we had the basics of reading and writing and math down cold. Mrs. Hurlocker liked repetition.
I fondly recall that she knew who the baseball fans were in the school and would afford a couple of us the opportunity to take advantage of the latest in technology. One crisp fall afternoon, she opened the window on her Ford Fairlane and turned on the radio so we could sit on the school's porch and listen to the last few innings of the World Series. That was where I sat on Oct. 13, 1960, with one or two others and listened to my beloved Yankees lose the seventh game of the Series to the Pirates when Bill Mazerowski hit a ninth inning home run off of Yankee reliever Ralph Terry. The ball blasted over the head of Yankee left fielder Yogi Berra, to end the game. It was the first walk off home run in Series history and I was crushed, but I at least got to hear it, thanks to our teacher. She could see the stress it had caused this ten year old boy and she was kind. She always was.
At the funeral, I began to recall all of the pretty successful folks in this world that she helped get started. I thought of farmers, doctors, scientists, teachers, salesmen, mothers and fathers, and the list goes on, all solid United States citizens that she had pointed down the right path. The little folks she gathered around the flag pole each morning to give the pledge and raise 'Ol Glory' had turned out just fine.
As we continued the conversation in the foyer, we talked that none of us had ever witnessed Mrs. Hurlocker lose her composure. She was always in control. She was always organized. She had to be, to accomplish what she did.
Thinking back on that period in my life, the system was pretty simple, the local farmers were on the school board and their charge was straight forward: take care of the building and hire the best teacher they could find.
It makes one pause and wonder at the money we spend on education in today's world and just how we got to where we are now. I do know that every child needs a caring, well-organized and intentioned teacher who can make a difference. District 19 sure had one.