Local residents share stories about influential educators

Teacher Appreciation Week was May 5 through 11.

Local residents were asked to share stories about their favorite teachers. Here are some of their stories:

[sc:text-divider text-divider-title=”Story continues below gallery” ]

Click here to purchase photos from this gallery

Alisa Sweazy

Carol Otte, “Coach,” was a true inspiration to all of the girls who went through Crothersville Junior-Senior High School. You did not have to be involved with sports or be an athlete to respect this amazing teacher.

When I was in school, Mrs. Otte was our health and physical education teacher along with our volleyball and track coach. If a girl needed someone to talk to, Mrs. Otte was the perfect person to talk to to help figure out a solution concerning your problem.

Coach helped with getting the girls sports program started when I was in high school. She met many obstacles in the beginning, but that did not stop her from achieving her goals for all of the girls. She is strong-willed and prevailed in a mostly male-dominate society and help all of us ladies come out winners.

A quick story that involved my senior year in volleyball. We were playing a rival school in volleyball and getting beat pretty badly. After a few timeouts, Coach finally told us for each point we lost by times 10, we were going to have to run laps around the gym the following day at practice. As I recall, we were going to have to run 100-plus laps. Needless to say, none of us wanted to run that many laps.

Being the captain of the team, my teammates asked me to talk with Coach to see if she would reduce the number of laps we had to run. The team sat in the locker room before practice waiting for Coach to come in. It seemed like hours, but Coach finally came in and asked if we thought we should get to practice since we had a lot of laps to run. I stood up and asked if she considered herself part of the team. Her response was, “Of course.” I said, “Well, the team is going to go run our laps. Do you want to join us?” She said, “Absolutely.” That was not the response we were expecting, but we headed out of the locker room to the gym to start our laps.

After running for what seemed like forever, we asked if we could take a break and get a drink of water. Coach agreed. A few teammates and I walked down the hallway to the drinking fountain to replenish our fluid loss. On the walk back to the gym, Coach rounded the corner and was headed to the water fountain and straight toward us. We were debating on walking past her, speaking or not speaking and really not sure what to do. When we met, we stopped, laughed, cried, hugged and respected each other even more than we already did. We all headed back to the gym and finished running our laps. To this day, I can remember that day, some 40 years ago, like it happened yesterday.

I could write a book on Carol Otte’s life lessons, and it would be a bestseller. For those of us who had to opportunity to be taught by her, we are truly blessed.

Mike Weasner

Mr. James C. Patton, Seymour High School band director, was my favorite teacher during my high school years 1963 to 1966. When I was an incoming sophomore in 1963, Mr. Patton was preparing the Seymour marching band for the V-J Day Parade. I played trumpet and was thrilled that I was going to be in my first parade.

Mr. Patton was very demanding but professional. He wanted the band to show its best at the parade. We did lots of practice marches around the west side of Seymour. As time went on, these practice marches got longer, and I began struggling to do the marching like he wanted. Mr. Patton thought I was not committed, but I was.

The day of the V-J Day Parade, the band had formed up at the start of the parade route. I nearly passed out and was not able to march in the parade. As it turned out, I had had pneumonia for the two weeks of the practice marches, and a few days after the parade, I ended up in the hospital for five days. When Mr. Patton found out I was in the hospital, he visited me every day.

We developed a close relationship over the three years I was at SHS. I learned so much from Mr. Patton and not just music skills. By his examples, he taught me how to be my best, and much of my successes in life are due to his influences during those three years.

In June 2007, I was able to have a visit with Mr. Patton, his wife, Marilyn, and their daughter, Susan, at their home in Crawfordsville. That was a real treat. Mr. Patton passed away in January 2013. I am glad I had the opportunity to see him in 2007 and personally thank him for all that he did for me.

Ashley Smoljo

Mr. Jeff Richey was the best. I struggled so much in school, both socially and academically, when in middle school. His teachings stuck with me my whole life. He told me I couldn’t play basketball because my grades weren’t good enough; however, that conversation was a conversation that didn’t make me feel like I was a bad student. I just needed to work a little harder, and he made me laugh during that conversation.

I understood from that talk with him that grades will always be more important than sports. I learned that day that there are teachers who can teach you and still make you feel good about yourself even if you don’t feel good about yourself.

I had him for health — best class ever. He made health class fun. I laughed every single day, but with the laughter came stories that were serious and that had very important valuable life lessons. I remembered everything he said. I was put in a really bad situation that was similar to a story he had shared in health class. His advice saved my life.

I will forever be grateful for his advice and for that block of time every day that made me feel like I could be anything and do anything I set my mind to. I will always be thankful for that confidence he instilled in me to be strong and continue on even when I didn’t feel like my best. Mr. Richey was and is the best teacher, coach and person. I hope he knows how many students he helped and saved in his life. Thank you, Mr. Richey.

Robin Perry

I remember my fourth grade teacher, Miss Lois. I was her “obvious favorite student” back in the ‘70s when it was OK to have “obvious favorite students.”

She was old. Very old. Probably at least 40. She always wore mauve lipstick, and her hair was always perfectly coiffed.

Miss Lois instilled in me a love of reading that I still enjoy today. She was also the first teacher who inspired me to consider teaching as a career.

She passed on years ago. Yet sitting beside me is a copy of the latest book I am reading, and I am typing this article in my very own classroom. She is still influencing today’s youth — through me.

How can you live forever you ask? Be a teacher.

I teach a preparation for college and careers class (among many other classes), and each time I teach the class, I hear students say, “I would like to be a teacher, but they don’t get paid enough.” Can’t argue there. Yet there are so many intrinsic rewards to teaching. And not everyone is motivated by a paycheck.

In what other career do you have the privilege of meeting so many genuinely good future leaders? In what vocation have you the honor of knowing you were instrumental in starting a student on a career path in which they will excel and derive satisfaction from for years to come? I love following my former students on social media to get updates on their accomplishments. Knowing I had a part in their success makes me so happy.

In what other occupation do you get “paid” when you see a former student in a store and you share a smile when he/she brings up a memory of your class that you have completely forgotten? Some “paychecks” can’t be deposited at the bank.

What other profession lets you live on in a student’s mind long after you are gone?

Career satisfaction occurs in many ways, and it’s not always about money. If you feel called to do so, please consider a career in teaching. (P.S. I would like to think that Miss Lois would be proud.)

Jamie Wehmiller

During my years at Lutheran Central School and Brownstown Central High School, I was blessed with many outstanding teachers, but there are three that stood out to me: Mrs. Nickie Isaacs, Mrs. Sandra Warren and Mrs. Andrea Pendleton.

I doubt it is a coincidence these three amazing women taught me some form of math through the years and I end up becoming a financial analyst who is going back to school to get a Master of Engineering in cybersecurity, both STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) related fields. Not only did these women give me a solid base of knowledge in an area that I would soon turn into a career, but they instilled in me hard work pays off and invested their time in me.

Whether it was Mrs. Isaacs helping me with prealgebra questions and assuring me I would be just fine in high school or Mrs. Pendleton and Mrs. Warren helping me before classes even started in the morning understand geometric proofs or derivatives in calculus, they all encouraged me and taught me so much more than just math. They were always preparing me for my next steps in life without me even realizing it, and I very much appreciate that. Thank you for all you did for me over the years. I truly appreciate it.

Lisa Gorbett Hayes

Having attended Freetown Elementary, Brownstown Middle School, Brownstown Central High School and Indiana State University before teaching in the Greensburg Community Schools system for 34 years, I still have one teacher that remains my all-time favorite. Third grade teacher Paula Henderson at Freetown Elementary made me feel like I could do anything I put my mind to.

I remember her walking to school each day, living just a few blocks from the building like the rest of us. She just taught and interacted in a manner that made each student in the classroom want to do their very best. She laughed with us, encouraged us like no other teacher had and seemed to just love what she was doing.

She often told us her former job was working with monkeys, and it trained her how to work with us. I believe we might have been her first teaching position. Her years of teaching touched so many lives in Freetown. I am sure she treated every kid the same, but she made each one feel like they were the most special kid in the room. I think of her often and what she instilled in me and how it made me go on to work in education, as well.

Abdiel Garcia Castelan

Back in seventh grade in 2007, I had the privilege of having an amazing science teacher. His name was Mr. Mahl at Seymour Middle School. It was my first year at this school since I had moved from Chicago to Seymour.

During that time, I did not have many clothes. To be honest, I had like three shirts that fit and maybe like two pants. I think Mr. Mahl noticed that, and one day, I remember him asking me what my clothes size was. I gave it to him, not sure what it would be about.

Some time passed and when I got to class, he had this huge bag filled with clothes. I was so excited to be getting free clothes. The bag was so big I had a hard time taking it on the bus. I got home and showed my mom what Mr. Mahl had given me. I was so happy, and that is still stuck with me today. It taught me to be compassionate and caring. I don’t ever hesitate to help someone who needs it because I have been on the other side.

I remember that small gesture that Mr. Mahl did that really impacted my life. I want to thank him for everything that he gave me and for the impact he made in my life.

Chips Everhart

No question my favorite teacher was Miss Alice Seymour. Miss Seymour taught at Redding Elementary School here in Seymour. She was the most loving and inspirational teacher I ever had. She handed out discipline fairly and when it was earned.

She also expected every student to do their best. We had to memorize a full poem each week. She was demanding only because she wanted each student to excel, do their best and succeed. She knew more about our abilities at that age than we did, and she found a way to develop that ability.

Miss Seymour did not know rich or poor or any other labels that unfortunately do get attached sometimes that some teachers, certainly not all, but some do recognize and also respond to.

She taught each student with respect, fairness, equality and most of all love for them as a person. She gave me life lessons that now have lasted my entire life. That one trait is to recognize people as they are, an individual. Each person is different but deserving of respect and capable of great success.

Miss Seymour and I developed a lasting friendship. That friendship lasted even after she passed away. I think of her often even today. We stayed in touch very regularly. For a long time, we met often and regularly at her home to do nothing more than simply visit. I went to the hospital one day after visiting her at her home just before she entered the hospital.

When I arrived at the hospital, I learned that she had just expired. It was a blow. She was so supportive of me, so loving and so caring of what I was doing in life. She cared and did make a difference.

Rodger Ruddick

I first had Mr. Don Hill for mechanical drawing class in the eighth grade at the old Shields Junior High School. The one aspect of mechanical drawing that fascinated me was when he said we could draw a curve by using straight lines. Then he proceeded to demonstrate how to make the parabolic curve.

I had Mr. Hill for graphic arts my junior year in high school, and I enjoyed everything we did in that class and must have displayed a trace of talent because he picked me and three other classmates to be in the production printing class our senior year.

About a month before graduation, I got a phone call from Dave Foster with The Seymour Tribune inviting me in for an interview. He said they were needing someone in their print shop, and when they called the high school, Don Hill recommended me. I started on-the-job training at The Seymour Tribune after school and went full time the day after graduation. I still use the skills I learned from Mr. Hill today because I help publish the Hayden Historical Museum’s quarterly newsletter.