Monday, June 11, 2007

Joe

My life is far richer for the many mentors who’ve encouraged and assisted me on my life path. Joe was one--

Joe didn’t blog, and if you google his name, you’ll find just one hit, item S15 for his church auction. Nellie and Joe— an indication of the importance of family in his life. But I digress—

Some 19 years ago, I transferred to Jane Addams Business Career Center in the middle of the school year to become the school’s LD resource teacher. In the terms of that era, my students were mainstreamed into the vocational programs and part of my responsibility was to assure their success. Enter Joe. My students were often engaged by and had an affinity for using computers. Many enrolled in the computer applications program which included word processing, spreadsheets, basic, cobol and accounting. Joe was the teacher in that area on whom I could always depend to work closely with me, to spend extra time with my kids. The kids adored Joe and even when he came to the classroom to share inappropriate behavior, he was met with smiles and happy greetings. I’d visit them in his classroom, there he’d be, crouched down beside them at the computer, pointing and coaching as they struggled with basic and cobol. He made arrangements for a terminal to be installed in my classroom so my students could have extra time to work. He advocated for permission for me to use a terminal at home (the days of 1200 baud modems).

Joe spent hours in the early mornings at school, teaching me basic, cobol, and accounting. Oh, how I struggled with basic and cobol but under his tutelage became more logical (my husband says that to this day) and able to assist students in my classroom. And so began my path to learning and infusing technology into learning--

But his mentorship extended far beyond the technology—he was a great model for me. Joe and I worked closely together on a school reform project. (It failed but that’s another story and Joe had retired by then.) In those months, the student team, for whom I was advisor with Joe’s assistance, helped conjure a vision of learning that would be transformational today. The student team reflected Joe’s energy, problem solving, and persona and they wore with pride the T shirts he designed. His rapport with the kids was particularly special-- a unique combination of dry humor, honesty, and sincere caring.

He and I came to mentor a particularly bright young woman who is now married with three children and licensed to teach middle childhood math and English in Ohio. His life perspective and his caring truly impacted her life. Over the years, we three have been in touch, sometimes more closely, others not. Her graduation, her wedding, his hospital room. With his death last week, after a valiant fight with leukemia, she sent a poem she’d written. She’s given me permission to publish an excerpt here:
"At my most fragile state, he gently reached his hand out
and lifted me up.

In my darkest hours, when I couldn’t bare my empty
life and thoughts of death consumed me, I would hear
his voice say, “you don’t have to live this way”, and for
just that moment, my fears were gone.

He touched the last, hollow piece of my soul and made
it grow.

For a brief moment, this man walked beside me,
saving me from an unbearable way."
Joe’s death brings a numbness that is somewhat eased by the words of Kahlil Gibran:
"For what is it to die but to stand naked
in the wind and to melt into the sun?

And what is to cease breathing, but to
free the breath from its restless tides, that
it may rise and expand and seek God unen-
cumbered?

Only when you drink from the river of
silence shall you indeed sing.

And when you have reached the moun-
tain top, then you shall begin to climb.

And when the earth shall claim your
limbs, then shall you truly dance."
Three reasons for this post--
  • to celebrate Joe

  • to remind myself to remember always from where I’ve come and to thank all those who’ve influenced who I’ve come to be

  • to illustrate the power and potential of a caring adult to touch a soul and bring it irrevocably toward the light

2 comments:

Darren Kuropatwa said...

I'm so sorry for your loss ... thinking of you.

Darren

Anne said...

I too am sorry for your loss. What a wonderful tribute you have written for Joe. Those who did not know him have had our lives enriched through your inspiring words about his giving nature and meaningful life. It touches my heart. Thinking of you.....

Always,
Anne