Wednesday, April 12, 2017

My Visit With Richard

One of the more enjoyable parts of my job is visiting with our alumni. Most of the time my interactions are with those who have graduated recently. If in college, they have come to expect me to ask about their grades! I am very interested in knowing how well we did preparing them for post-secondary education.  In addition to that group of young alumni, I've been here long enough now that students who graduated early in my tenure are beginning to settle into careers and starting to get married! Those are also really fun conversations to have! It is very exciting to see our alumni thriving, enjoying life, and contributing to society. Soon, some of these alumni will begin to have families and we'll be (hopefully) seeing those children in our schools!

But not all my interactions with alumni are from recent graduates. From time to time, I'll have a conversation with someone who wants to share a story about a beloved teacher from a long time ago. Or, I'll hear stories of the move from the old building to the 'new high school'. That new high school by the way is 20 years old, so those alumni are probably in their mid to late 30's at this point. Many of which have children in our schools right now. Then there are the alum who are retired and now enjoy watching their grandchildren in our concerts, musicals, and athletic events. I am lucky to visit with these folks on a somewhat regular basis as well. Be it at the Neighborhood Grill for an early morning breakfast, or at one of our events here at school. I thoroughly enjoy hearing the stories they have to share of their time as a student at Hudson, and the impact our school had on them so long ago. 

Yet my interactions with alumni have stretched even further back than many of you might imagine. A couple of weeks ago, I received a random email from Richard Mohler who lives in the greater Dallas, Texas metropolitan area. In his message, he stated that at 101 years of age, he is likely our oldest known living alum. Well, I checked the records and sure enough, Dick Mohler graduated from Hudson High School in 1933! I'm not sure if it was divine intervention or fate, but as luck would have it my wife Ann and I were planning a trip to Dallas the very next week! It's not everyday that you get to meet in person the oldest known alumnus of your school district! So, we made plans to meet Dick at his home in Dallas during our vacation. 

It was a delightful visit! I don't know about you, but if I am in half as good of shape as Mr. Mohler in my senior years, I'll be a pretty happy camper! He credits his good health to eating right, enjoying life, and a very strong faith. We really enjoyed hearing what life was like growing up in Hudson in the 1930s and about his daily work doing chores on the farm, not too far from the school. He told us about how he would literally run to and from school everyday to keep in shape. Dick was very active in school as an athlete, participating in both basketball and track. Academically, he graduated at the top of his class as valedictorian. He shared that he beat his girlfriend for the top spot by one point--but he also wanted me to know that she wasn't really his girlfriend, just a friend that happened to be a girl! 

Dick went on to have a successful career as a seventh and eighth grade teacher in Dayton, Ohio where he and his family settled. When I inquired about how he arrived in Dayton, he shared that at that time in Iowa, his wife could not be a teacher if she was married! So they moved to where they could both enjoy a teaching career. We promised to stay in touch, and after about an hour or so headed on our way. Dick is planning a trip to Cedar Falls in July, and I am hopeful that we will be able to connect. I told him that I would really enjoy giving him a tour of our school buildings and facilities, although the buildings that were here when he was a student have long since been replaced. 

In any event, this whole experience really got me thinking about the history and tradition of our school district. I don't know if you have ever really paid attention to the sign in front of the elementary school, but the emblem on the top states the district was established in 1855. Now, I've walked by that sign hundreds of times and from time to time have taken note of that establishment imprimatur. And I found myself wondering a little bit about the history of the school district, and frankly whether or not that was even true. As it turns out, it is true--or so close to that year that it really is quite insignificant. 

You see, when I started looking through the archives for records on Mr. Mohler, I was pretty deep in the vault. I decided that while I was in there to have an even deeper look around. Now, I am not sure you are aware of this, but school districts keep records forever. So, in the very back of the vault in a dusty file cabinet rarely opened I found minutes from a school board meeting dated March 7, 1864. The pages were old and brittle. The handwritten notes were so faded that it is becoming difficult to read them. But a prime topic of discussion at the meeting that evening included the proposal to 'levy a tax on the taxable property of the District Township sufficient to raise the sum of (illegible) in addition to what has already been raised for the erection of a schoolhouse in this Sub-District.'

Truth be told, I probably could have gone even deeper and further back into our history, but as it was I felt like I probably shouldn't be handling these documents without a pair of white cotton gloves. Nevertheless, meeting Richard and having that opportunity to examine our history was an awesome experience. It reminded me the importance of the American public school system and the impact that it has on generation upon generation of citizens. And, it caused me to pause and reflect on the rich heritage and tradition of public schooling that is part of the fabric of our community. Indeed, that tradition runs deep in Hudson. 

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