Last weekend my wife and I traveled to Omaha, Nebraska for my 40th High School Reunion. It is a humbling fact to realize that all of us are now 58 years old, rapidly approaching our sixties. There were 563 people in my graduating class but unfortunately only about 60 showed up for the reunion. I was disappointed that none of the 4 or 5 people that were my closest friends showed up. That’s partly my fault because other than my attendance at our 25th class reunion, I haven’t contacted or corresponded with anyone in my High School class for the last fifteen years. Alas, friendships need cultivating, and I haven’t plowed those fields for many years.
On the night I graduated in 1967 I vowed never to walk into Westside High School again. Most of my peers came from wealthy families and we were not rich. I always felt that I was from “the other side of the tracks” and was less popular and less talented than most of my fellow students. Due to the size of my high school, only the most gifted athletes were invited to participate in varsity sports. Guys like me were in the band. I played the tuba. In retrospect, my feelings of inferiority were mostly self-inflicted. Like a lot of teenagers, I lacked perspective.
Mostly, I failed to appreciate the quality of education that I received at Westside High. My history teacher, Paul Andreas, inspired me to love history and appreciate the blessings of being an American. He was a World War II veteran, a common foot soldier, and one of only eight men in his unit to survive the war. He told me about the day he finally returned to the United States. He stood on the deck of the ship in the early morning, waiting to see the statue of liberty in the fog. When he finally disembarked, he walked down the stairs, got down on his knees and “kissed the earth” he was so happy to be back in the United States. I never forgot his words. Paul Andreas wasn’t an average teacher or a good teacher, he was a great teacher.
During my senior year, Judith Hoyt, my English composition instructor, taught me how to write and how to organize a written composition. By the time she was finished with me, college writing courses were a snap. She had the reputation of being a tough instructor with an eye for detail and no tolerance for excuses. I can never repay Judith for what she taught me.
Tony Snyder was my band teacher. He taught me a lot, but most of all I remember his simple decency and honesty. He had plenty of reason to be frustrated with us when we prepared for concerts or marching shows. I could tell then, even as a high school student, that he really wanted us to do well and that he was putting his heart and soul into his job. He taught us how to work together, how to respect each other, and how to strive for perfection. While no one that I know of went on to play musical instruments professionally, the lessons he taught us were a requirement for life’s journey. No one ever spoke unkindly about him; we worshiped that guy.
It was good to visit again with some of my fellow students who roamed the halls of Westside High School from 1963 to 1967. I was amazed at how many of my peers had chosen to become K-12 teachers. Quite a few chose social service professions and there were a couple of lawyers hanging around. Some had gone into business for themselves and had done quite well financially. There was a noticeable lack of people who had chosen engineering or the hard sciences. Unfortunately, 25 of our classmates have passed away. Only one was lost in the Vietnam War, so I assume the others died due to illness or accident. Seven of those 25 people I vividly remember. The girls were sweet and the boys were friendly. Recalling the energy of their souls and the spark of their personalities, I mourn their loss.
The highlight of my reunion came at a dinner held on Saturday evening. Mark Snyder, Tony’s son, was a member of our class. He brought his father to the dinner. Once again I got to enjoy the wit and wisdom of my old band teacher, Tony Snyder. His wife was also there, a stunningly beautiful woman, even well into her eighties. This time I got to hug Tony and to tell him how important his influence had been in my life. As always, he shrugged it off and didn’t presume to take any credit. Secretly I think he knew how grateful I am to have benefited from his tutelage, but he will never know how fundamentally important his example has been to me. Thanks Westside! Thanks, Paul. Thanks, Judith. And thanks, Tony!