I don’t know how it happened. Suddenly, the ship of life just jerked to a halt. Normally, I don’t get pensive until near or on my October birthdate. This year life just decided to raise the demeanor a bit early. How that anchor loosed from the chocks isn’t known. Now that it is, it has to be addressed and secured. You see, this last two weeks three of the mentors in my early life passed on. It seems they always go in threes. I wondered after the second who the third would be. I found out this evening.
The first to pass was one of my priest-mentors from grade school. I attended St. Michael’s School in Findlay Ohio, graduating the 8th grade in 1974. The priest’s name was Fr. Gerald Robinson. You might recognize the name. His notoriety caught the national spotlight for a few days this past month. (see the links below) Fr. Gerry introduced me to the documents of Vatican II and Captain Queeg. The Caine Mutiny was my first study in moral theology. Fr. Gerry didn’t call it that. And, Fr. Gerry didn’t cut me any slack due my fourteen years of age. Strawberry’s taste good to me today, but the lesson is still a bit fuzzy. Fr. Gerry’s entanglement with the law happened ten years after he taught me. I was in the Navy, a place he had tried to go but was not permitted by the Bishop. It would be another twenty or so years before prosecutors would convict him of murder. I was in Florida at the time. Returning home in the past couple years I was able to visit him once. We exchanged a few letters. We talked of Victor Frankl, of the similarities between prison life and the military. I sent him a couple of my theology papers, hoping to rekindle the ‘lessons’, but his schedule, and now more probably his health, kept him from responding. He was buried today, quietly, and without media presence. I didn’t even know the funeral was scheduled. I’m sure the family wanted quiet for their own grief. Eternal rest, Fr. Gerry… and thank you.
Marge Ryan was my seventh and eighth grade history teacher at St. Michael’s. Classes shifted around in the buildings during my seven years in the Catholic primary school. My class started out in the 19th century building at 422 Western Ave in Findlay. I was in the second grade and Sister Carol was a young and vibrant nun in the order of the Sisters of Charity. By seventh and eighth grade we had shifted through all the buildings. Mrs. Ryan’s classroom was on the northwest corner, the first floor. Those of you who know me or follow this web-log know I concentrate on history and politics about a third of the time. You’re getting an extended lesson from Marge Ryan. Her thorough guidance moved us beyond the dates and events to the reasons why things were happening. Mr. Clinton wasn’t the first President to have indiscretions in the White House. Nor was JFK. Mr. Harding probably wasn’t either, but I learned about his researching and writing a paper for Mrs. Ryan.
Marge made us look beyond history to life. Organizing three-day Ohio History trips, there was fund-raising to do. We sold candy bars, among other projects, to pay our way. The oldest of eight kids, I had a lot of selling to do. Convincing people it was a worthy cause, keeping the records of sales, making the orders, delivering product, collecting payment, and counting the profit to know whether I covered the costs were all part of the lesson. Who knew a history teacher was going to teach us business skills? I didn’t. I learned them still.
She also taught us about long-term projects before we grew into high school. The project she expected us all to build was a history book for Ohio. Every map we drew, every day trip we took, and every paper we wrote was to be catalogued, filed, mounted, and ordered as her syllabus directed. I made my cover out of ¼” plywood. I was looking at it just yesterday, remembering Marge. Eternal rest, Mrs. Ryan… and thank you.
I arrived at the funeral home for Marge’s family’s liturgy and rosary, Catholic traditions on the night before the funeral mass. Community prayer with the family and for the deceased is an affirmation of the continuation of the spirit’s life in addition to the sharing of grief. I met my Mom there. She was a friend of Marge’s for many of the last several years. She reintroduced me to Marge’s son, Rob. I hadn’t seen Rob since he graduated ahead of me from St. Michael’s. Still, as in most reunions, I was glad to shake his hand. Some others from the parish were there, but I didn’t see anyone I recognized. I had an hour before the service, so I went to a real bone yard.
Visiting the family gravesites is something I do when I’m pensive. The cemetery is close to the funeral home. Well, it’s a small town. Everything is close to everything. My father lies there. I knelt at his side. My brother-in-law is there. We lost him last year. Parrot Head! And, one of my grandson’s is there. John Walter wasn’t with us but a couple of minutes when his mother brought him into our world. He taught us some incredible lessons. I knelt to remember them all. But it was the trip back to the funeral home where I found the third ‘death’ I would face, and this one struck me hardest, because part of me died when I saw it.
You see, the grade school buildings Fr. Gerry met me in and talked with me, and the same building Marge Ryan’s classroom was in where I learned those history and business lessons? Those buildings are now demolished. A fire a few years back did a lot of damage and the parish long before that had built a new building to house all the grades on its campus on Findlay’s east side. I rode my bicycle to those buildings. I played basketball. I even learned of death first there when our classmate, and son of a fourth grade teacher, died in a road-side hit-and-run. Billy Schilling was a ‘turd’ and we didn’t get along. Why did he have to die so young? I learned of miracles too. Another teacher’s son had a brain tumor. Wasn’t it a miracle that the doctors were able to remove it? Wasn’t it a miracle that he would learn to walk, talk, and become self-sufficient? To a grade-school kid in a Catholic school, it was a miracle. Stevie Hildreth is grown into Steve Hildreth, and he takes care of himself quite well these days.
The buildings are gone. A pile of bricks and beams is all that’s left. The metal seems to have been collected and scrapped into bins. There won’t be anything left next time I see that property. The contractors are working efficiently. Every brick they pick up is a memory of a teacher’s life, a child’s life, a community’s history. Time rolls its ceaseless course, the race of yore…
Pulling up this anchor has really muddied the waters. All sorts of names and memories came pouring forth; Barb Burger (now Logsdon), her friend Sandy Doyle, Hank Kramer and Doug Wellington, Sharon Haugh, Kevin Flanagan and Eddie Finsel, Theresa Richards (Sister Theresa, for a long time not), Mike Zehender, Stuart Stoll, my first ‘brothers’; Doug Alt, the Walsh sisters (twins); I met Mark Cervanka’s parents at the funeral home; Mark lives in Washington state now; Karen Hemker (her mom taught sixth grade), of course, there’s Jill Rooney (Weckesser), my first ‘crush’, and Cindy Costa (Laird) who’s father was a mentor through Scouting and beyond, and whom I should have had a crush on and connected with sometime along the way; Pat and Katie Veit, where are you? How many have I forgotten? The bricks would know.
Anchors dredge up a lot of mud in lakes and rivers, and Lifeline is a boat on a clay bottomed lake. Friendship’s anchor, my first boat and in Florida, also stirred up a lot of bottom sand when pulled up. Losing these three mentors has dredged up a lot of memories. Part of my own life is gone. Time to secure the anchor again and get underway. There’s a lot of ocean left to sail in my life, God willing. What lessons to I have to learn, and what lessons am I required to pass on, whether knowingly or (k)not. Father Gerry got to see some of what his good work did before he moved on. I’m sure Marge saw some of her students’ later works as well, just none of mine. And the school, well, if I get a few pieces of wood from the rubble, it’ll see some more of the lessons passed to me by other mentors.
Anchor’s aweigh! Under way, shift colors…
Late log entry: Holy crow’s nest, I’ve committed the ‘husband’s feaux-pa’. If I leave this out, I’m in trouble, and if I put it in, well, I’m still in trouble, it’s just my penance is that everyone else knows… That school building’s gymnasium and cafeteria, where the fire happened? That’s where our wedding reception was held. Mike Zehender was my best man. Stuart Stoll a groomsman, both classmates of mine at St. Michael’s. Mindy tossed her bouquet in the gymnasium. The New Folk guitar trio played in the cafeteria. I believe (another classmate) Barb Burger’s future mother-in-law (Caroline Logsdon) helped serve refreshments. The day was haze-gray, a prelude to many others I would see serving in the Navy. All that remains now is the concrete foundation. Our marriage? Like all that last 35 years and continue, its famous. I love you, Mindy!
News about Fr. Gerry
St Michael’s School