Mark- Defender of the Defenseless

Of my three best friends, Mark Widoff is most difficult to describe. Mark is the ultimate defender of those who have little to recommend them or have no other place to turn. I am not sure how a scion of the Widoff’s Bakery fortune in Worcester, Mass. got that way, but that’s the way he is.

Yes, he was in the Peace Corps( where he met his future wife Janet) in the Dominican Republic. His public vita is peppered with positions of authority and responsibility. His wonderful education background at Clark University and at Harvard Law, made him someone whose entry into state government a natural. He was a Deputy Attorney General, Executive Assistant to the Secretary of Education, the Consumer Advocate ( in which position he attracted may future well known folks into state government), private practice, and General Counsel to the Pennsylvania State Education ( teacher’s union) for seventeen years.

Those are his professional credentials. His personal qualifications go way beyond that. If you look at this actual jobs, he litigated employment discrimination, litigated against rate increases for utilities, defended employees in their altercations with management, responded to citizen’s complaints in the areas of health, education, welfare, housing, civil rights, and many other things. When someone is in trouble Mark Widoff is there to help.

He does not defend the large corporations, wealthy people, powerful people or those in control. He defends those who need his help. He is still doing it right now as you read this tome. He sold his residence the Harrisburg area to move to Austin ( to be near his grandchildren) and is presently serving, gratis, for the Texas Legal Services to people who need legal help.

He is one of the founders of the Keystone Research Center, a progressive think tank ( the other founder is Bill Hughes), an early supporter of the political reform group called Democracy Rising, and has joined similar organizations in Austin. He is also active in an interfaith group in Pennsylvania.

Mark is the reason that Carol and I moved to Harrisburg and joined the synagogue to which we now belong. In the 19 years that we have been here, Mark and I have collarborated on a number of issues, including the equity suit. He has been my advisor, my advocate and sometimes my fiercest opponent. There are issues on which we do not agree. That should not surprise anyone who knows both of us. We are both passionate about certain subjects and we both don’t give an inch. In fact, our disagreements can lead to illumination for both of us.Even though Bill Hughes and Mark worked together at the PSEA headquarters,they did not communicate with each other very well. Mark had a hard time understanding Bill’s hyperbolic colloquy’s. He would shake his head and walk off.

Mark and I talked about this at length a number of years ago. I explained to Mark that Bill was one of the smartest people that I knew. His thinking methods were completely different than Marks. Mark is more a logical sequential and Bill makes many associations and throws them up against the wall to see how and whether they would stick. To take everything single thing Bill said and line it up in a coherent way could drive someone to distraction. That is not to say that Bill could not logic his way through a problem, but his thinking mechanisms were on the opposite side of the spectrum form Marks.

Mark was delighted at the explanation and immediately saw how it would work. He and Bill became much closer and today we all go on a yearly golf outing at some far off place in the United States ( along with my daughter-in-law’s father Al Collini) and spend time making great sport of each other (mostly Mark). That is one of the few times that I go golfing during the year. We really go to take advantage of good restaurants and gaming establishments. Mark is not a gambling person and never goes in.

Mark is someone who concentrates on a problem to the distraction of all else. One evening in the Spring, I got a call from Mark’s cell phone. He was driving down to the Delaware shore. It was his time to think about some things and needed to speak to me about them. During the middle of the conversation, Mark appeared to go way off topic and start another conversation that went like this. “ O.K., I am pulling over. Yes officer, I have my license, registration and insurance card. No I did not know that at all. I do look at the signs as I am going by, but I never saw them. Yes, I will be careful next time. Thanks so much for your consideration.”

Without so much as a hesitation in his voice Mark continued on with his conversation with me. I interrupted him to aks what was going on. “Oh, a policeman just stopped to ask if I had seen some signs down the road that told me to slow down because this was a work area. “ That was all that he said and the conversation went on for the next fifteen minutes.

That’s Mark. He is always involved. He is always concerned about our state, its people and our country. No, he does not wear an American Flag lapel pin when he is defending the rights of our citizens.However, I see him as more of a pro American person than most anyone who claims to be a patriot.

Advertisements

FUN WITH A FIRST YEAR TEACHER

The first year of teaching is emotionally and physically exhausting. Can you imagine preparing for a first grade group of six year olds for a full day of education. On the secondary level, how about 150 or so eighth graders coming to you each 50 minutes for an entire day. You do have a 30 minute lunch break and maybe a duty period thrown in their just for fun.
Speaking of duty periods, the story that I am about to tell you came from Harold Fleischer, the assistant superintendent when I got to Kutztown and later my successor as school superintendent. As I told you, Harold was prone to tell the most outrageous stories that were filled with hyperbole. This story was confirmed by my former guidance counselor and friend, John Rohrbach.
Some years before I became Junior High School Principal in Kutztown, Harold was the principal. John Rohrbach was the guidance counselor then, as he was when I was there. Each year, at any school, there are often new teachers who need to be mentored as they go by some of the old hands. In some cases, the veterans can be teachers and sometimes the principal or guidance counselor.
Sam Himmelberger was a first year teacher at the Kutztown Area Junior High School. He had graduated from Kutztown College ( later university) and was all ready to tend to his teaching duties. Sam was a serious kind of guy, who loosened up in later years. I did meet him a few times when he came to visit the junior high school.
During this duty period he was asked to kind of keep an eye on the hallways and peek into the bathrooms once in a while. Sam did his job well on the first day. He looked at every nook and cranny of the two buildings that comprised the junior high school. His duty period was at the end of the first day of school. All at once Sam rushed into the main office and asked to see Mr. Fleischer. Audrey Gougler, the secretary ( and later my secretary), saw the look on Sam’s face and ushered him into Harold’s office. As things happen, John Rohrbach was also in the office speaking to Harold.
Harold could see the crazed look in Sam’s eyes. “ What is the matter, Sam?” Sam could hardly get the words out of his mouth, “Come with me to the first floor boys room, I have to show you something. It is awful.” Harold and John both rushed out of the office fearing the worst. Led by Sam they barged into the boy’s room. Sam shouted, “There, look at it, isn’t it awful.” There on the wall written in magic marker were the words, “Fleischer Eats Shit.” Sam was positively shaking as he pointed out it. “ What are we going to do? This is terrible and it’s only the first day of school.
Harold and John were about to laugh out loud, but seeing Sam’s condition, they opted for another way of handling it. I can almost see Harold’s expression as he put his hand on Sam’ shoulder and said, “Sam, there is something that you have to learn about junior high kids. Sometimes, they have a way of expressing themselves that adults don’t . This kid was trying to infer that he was saying something about the principal. It is, in fact, a way of expressing that he was thinking about me and wanted me to know it.”
Sam’s eyes showed that he could not grasp the concept of those words having a positive meaning. John Rohrbach calmly told Sam that one day, there might be the same kind of thing written about him on a bathroom wall and that Sam would then know that he had made it in the eyes of some of the kids. Sam seemed to calm down. He wasn’t sure that he understood exactly what all that meant, but since Harold and John were not too worried. He was not going to worry any further.
Harold had the words cleaned off that afternoon and nothing more was said of it. A number of months passed and Sam once again, on duty, came rushing into the office with a great smile on his face. “ Can I see Mr. Fleischer please. Audrey let Sam into the office. “ Mr. Fleischer, you will never believe what just happened, Come and see.” Once again the trio marched into the boy’s bathroom and saw on the wall, “Himmelberger Eats Shit.” Sam was beaming. “ Now I know that I made it, the kids the kids really think of me.” Harold and John clasped their arms on Sam’s back and congratulated him.
It wasn’t till many years later that Harold and John told Sam that THEY had written those words on the bathroom walls.

THERE ARE NO SUBWAYS IN LICKINGVILLE

One of the most difficult things I have had to do in my life (and still today) is to explain to people in authority what it is like to live in rural areas. It is not because people are hard hearted, or are unwilling to listen, but the vast expanses, the hidden poverty ( in many cases), the difference in cultures and history make an explanation to those in charge very difficult.
I am not just talking about government. Folks who have no experience dealing with rural people in the business world, social services, and religious organizations sometimes appear to be unknowing of over 25% of the population of our country. When seeing remarks about farmers, as the only tenants of rural America, I can only gnash my teeth and sometimes fire back an email or phone someone to tell them that agriculture is an increasing small part of rural America. Rural people are in all sorts of occupations- extractive industries ( coal, oil, natural gas, etc.), manufacturing, small business enterprise and all of the things one might expect from any area.
Some of the major differences are the geographic isolation, discrimination based on zipcode, lack of medical and social services, higher prices for goods ( only real estate cost less), and other services. I one time did a market basket study and found out that the cost of food in suburban areas was cheaper than in the heart of the city and rural areas. Funny, aren’t the suburbs the places where the wealthier live. For many people that last few sentences seem counter intuitive. They did to me when I first lived in a rural area and discovered that my car insurance had risen 25% because of the more dangerous roads, the lack of lighting and the lack of close by hospitals. We do know that the most dangerous occupations do not reside in the metro areas. Farming and mining are the most dangerous and that is what many rural people do for a living.
When Jim Carroll of the Erie Times wrote a long series of articles about rural poverty in Pennsylvania in the 1980’s ( at my behest), I was shocked to learn that there were folks called “igloo people” living in large ammunition boxes left over from World War Ii. They lived in Crawford County below Erie. Rural poverty is generally unreported in large metro newspapers. We are not talking about the rural South alone. We are talking about rural people all over the place.
When I worked at the I.U. in Clarion in the 1980’s, I was constantly on the defensive about our 3,000 square mile area. Our resources were limited and the central authorities treated us as if we were located in suburban Philadelphia. It was almost like pulling a locomotive uphill just to get someone to understand that we were not like suburban or city areas. Central authorities tend to understand that kind of living. Schools of education, business and management tend to train young people how to exist in areas with hospitals, doctors, social services, transportation and governmental services.
I grew very frustrated and vowed to make people in high places understand that we were different. We could not hire a 100,000 dollar suit to write a sewage grant, or become more entrepreneurial when we had 27% unemployment, or had not public transport. The following story is not apocryphal. Sometime in the early 1980’s, there was a proposal created by the Bureau of Special Education in the Department of Education. On its face, it appeared to be a good hearted attempt at helping special education children. The basic premise was to keep handicapped children from spending so much time on the school bus. There were a number of reasons for this that related to individual handicapping conditions.
I was certain that those who promulgated this rule saw only positive sides when they ordered that no special education child could spend more than one hour on a school bus going to a from school. At first reading, I thought that I had not interpreted the proposal correctly. I read it again and became violently ill at the thought.
Many of our students in our area spent more than an hour on the bus and that included ALL children not just special ed. kids. I could not fathom that someone in Harrisburg did not pick this up and say “That’s impossible to do.” I put the proposal down and called Dr. Gary Makuch, the Director of Special Education for the Commonwealth of Education. Gary was a very nice ( and existential) kind of guy who I had gotten to know through the years.
He answered my call and I expressed my concerns to him in a short and pithy bunch of words. Gary said that we might be able to ameliorate the situation by using public transportation. At that moment, I realized that I was speaking to someone who had no idea of what I was saying. I did not want to explain to him in more than a few words how impossible that would be. I just said, “Gary, There are no Subways in Lickingville.”
I believe that Gary understood at once. The proposal disappeared from view within a few days and we went on with our merry affairs. However, my response to Gary had some unintended consequences. Evidently, the expression caught on with a number of people in Harrisburg and when lobbying for rural schools it was sometimes used to get me to respond. It did, however, cause me to write a little book about rural areas and a chapter in a book on education.
Have we succeeded in getting folks to understand any better? I believe that there is a movement in our country to attend to the needs of rural places. The new proposed reauthorization of No Child Left Behind, will have codicils that will attend to the needs of rural schools. Someone is listening.

THE QUEEN OF CUSS

Carol and I now have five grandchildren. As an old joke goes, I cannot have any more grandchildren because I had a vasectomy a few years ago. When we see our grandchildren now, I relive some of the fun moments from their parent’s lives. We have told our two children all of the fun stuff that has happened as they were growing up. They then lived through it themselves and now they live it through their own children.
It is always a strange day when you put your children on the bus to go to their first day of school. That is going to happen with our five year old granddaughter Cassidy. She is a bright young lady and has a verbal bent to her. She can snap off a joke and laugh at her own shortcomings. She and her brother and cousins are delightful to be around and to kid around with. Each Summer all of us go to the shore at Bethany Beach Delaware. During the midday break for a couple of hours Carol and I produce a play with all of them from age 14 to age 5. The eldest, Cameron, will not want to participate anymore, but is always willing to direct.
All of this puts me in mind of the first day that our daughter Dara went to school on the bus in kindergarten. Carol walked her and saw that she was o.k. Her brother kept an eye out for her and things went well. Carol was there when the bus came back at about 12:00 . It was a ½ day kindergarten. Dara bounced off the bus happily and regaled us with the first day of Kindergarten and Mrs. Rohrbach, who was a terrific teacher with the patience of Job.
A short while after Dara got home, she looked at her mom with serious eyes and asked her what the words “Oh Shit” meant. Carol was astounded. Here was this almost five year old face saying a really bad word. Carol, being the teacher that she is, bent down and looked into Dara’s face and calmly explained in five year old terms what the words meant. Dara turned round and appeared to be satisfied.
Later that evening, Carol and I were discussing the matter. She asked me if bus drivers had any control over what kids were saying on the bus. I told her that they had some general control, but their job was to drive and see to it that kids got off the bus safely. If a major even happened, they were to stop the bus and talk to the kids or call the office with something more serious. Carol looked at me with concern. “Do you mean that little kids have to listen to older kids curse?” I was not ready with an answer. Obviously bad language should not be tolerated, but the bus driver has to set the rules. Some are good at it and some are not. It may also be that the words were spoken so that the driver could not hear them.
The next day, Dara came home with another bad word and Carol patiently explained to Dara what the word meant and that she should not use it in public. Carol was getting angrier each moment. At the end of the third day of bad words, Carol explained the word’s origins and meanings and asked Dara where she had heard those words. She said that on the first day, someone said it to a kid sitting across the aisle from her. She then came home and asked her mom. She then went back on the bus the next day and told all of the other kids what the word meant. The second day, the kids brought up another word and asked Dara to go home and ask her mom what the word meant. On the third day when the kids asked her about another word, Dara agreed to take it home and ask again. She then told all of the kids on the bus that her mom knew more dirty words than anyone else in the world. Thus began the legend of The Queen of Cuss.

I AM AARON ZOOK

Kutztown was the home of the Pennsylvania Dutch Folk Festival. If you are not sure what the word Dutch means, it is a corruption of the word Deutch ( German). The people that settled Berks, Lancaster and Lebanon Counties in Pa were German people who came here in the early 18th century. George Kutz came from the Palatinate section of Germany. The Amish folks ( Jakob Amman) and the Mennonites ( Frisio Menno Simons, writer in the latter part of the 16th century) left the old world to come to a new land. The Amish spoke mostly German ( they were from Switzerland, Alsace and the Palatinate). Each year at the end of June and the beginning of July, the Pennsylvania Dutch Folks Festival took place on the Kutztown Fairgrounds across the way from the College. Many Kutztownians left their regular jobs and took gigs at the festival- taking tickets, selling funnel cakes, sausage sandwiches and also selling beautiful quilts. Some of us were involved in the presentation of a play that portrayed the Amish way of life.
Richard Gougler ( bless his soul) was the Chairman of the Kutztown Area Senior High School Math Department and the author of a number of plays that were produced at the Folk Festival. All of the characters were played by local people. Even children got into the act and each performance was a sell out ( it was free once you got into the festival).
For a number of years, replete with a beard, I was a character in the play. I played the heavy, Aaron Zook, who had not time for people who did not follow the Amish way of life. I was at the forefront of shunning those who did not comply and had a very stern warning for people in the audience who thought that they could get away with not doing the same.
We sang songs and generally had a great time. My own children, Marc and Dara were part of the goings on and we had a great time for those 11 days. Each day had two performances and we hung around the festival in our costumes, or went home. It was a change from our normal lives. We even had some of our relatives come and see us. I am not sure they understood what the superintendent of schools was doing in such a getup.
After some of the plays, we would all get together and have snacks and just tell jokes and kid around. We got to know people and still communicate with some of them to this day. We did not take ourselves too seriously as either actors, singers of members of the Amish community.
After one particular performance, Dick Gougler and I were just hanging around a fence in the back of the outdoor theater. We heard loud voices coming toward us. One of the voices sounded younger and the other a more mature voice. The younger voice said, “ These people are fakes, they are no more Amish than I am. Why did we come to this place and get gyped?” The more mature voice said, “ Calm down , I see two of the people standing over there by the fence.” Let’s ask them.”
As they came closer, we saw an older woman and a young woman of about 18 or so. The older woman was obviously the mother to the younger. They both had a New Yawk accent. The mother approached us and asked if we were really Amish. I remained silent. Dick said that the Amish would not participate in anything like the festival and singing and acting. The mother nodded her head , but the young woman said, “ See, I told you it was all fake, these people are not Amish and we paid money to get in here and money to park. It is all crap.”
The two walked away still jawing at each other. Dick turned to me and asked why I had not said a word. “ Dick, these people came from New York. The young girl was wearing a Star of David. What would she have done if I told her and her mom that I was a New York Jew playing an Amish farmer?”

THE RETURN OF RONALD T. BOGUS

(This blog is being given over to Representative Ronald T. Bogus, who serves the 21st legislative district in the State of Anxiety. Bogus has been in office since 1985. Along with the former editor of the Clarion News, there has been constant friction between the two. Actually, they both went to Creedence Clearwater College in Ohio and were roommates. Bogus found this blog on his own and has insisted that he have a turn in the barrel to explain himself and his background. He refers to a blog by Jeremiah Nebbish, another critic of his service to his constituents and felt I needed to be fair. So in a moment of pure Zen, I agreed.)
I am not sure who reads any of Hillman’s blog, but I know that somehow, he has defamed me in some of his musings. I have not read all of what he says because most of the time it does not make any sense. I have sent this blog address to most of my family and friends and they think that it is unreadable. With that as a preface, let me tell you something about myself.
My former good friend has made sport of me in many of his writings in the county from which I came, Clarion. He is still the naïve person he was when we were both students at Creedence Cleawater College in Ohio. He still does not understand that I was chosen president of our fraternity and he was just part of the mob. That is why he and his band of brothers; Nebbish, Hillman and others have taken liberties with my background. Many of my former former friends now think that I am a money-grubbing, dishonest bag of wind.They have twisted my desire to be a good public servant, a conscientious citizen and an entrepreneur in the great American tradition of free enterprise.
Let me begin by saying that I am proud and humbled by the fact that my constituents have seen fit to reelect me 12 times in the last 24 years. During a particularly low point in the history of our legislature five years ago, I refused to take the raise that was duly passed by both houses and signed by the Governor. It was only when receiving many emails and notes from my constituents that I finally agreed to take it. Most of the messages said that if I did not take it, some other crook would probably get it. I was proud that my constituents saw me as honest and others as crooks.
I have been besmirched by half truths and innuendos in the local newspapers in Clarion County. I am known in my own 21st legislative district as a hard worker and a forthright defender of the underdog- a friend to those who have no friends.
Let me comment on some of the more outrageous shadings of truth that have appeared in the local newspapers:
1. That my law degree was secured by sending a $25 fee and a matchbook cover to a post office box. That is as far from the truth as can be possible. I received my degree from the Cayman Islands Institute of Law. I spend a full three weeks in residence there and wrote a 10 page thesis on “ Why I want to be a lawyer.” I was given credit for life experiences and graduated with honors.
2. I have been accused of somehow taking advantage of people by selling bottled water during and epidemic of giardiasis. How could anyone think my efforts to help the unfortunate people of my district and state were based on monetary self interest? I was visiting one of our community residents in the hospital in High Anxiety. He was the owner of an almost bankrupt bottled water company. Because of the mounting hospital bills, he needed some quick cash. Fortunately, I always carry blank forms in my attaché case (bills of sale, wills, mortgage forms, etc.) and I was able to help the poor fellow out by purchasing his business. Was it my fault that the news of the giardiasis epidemic became public knowledge a day later?
3. And the scurrilous remarks about my campaign of November of 2008; My worthy opponent and mortician, Hardly A. Cheapshot remains to this very moment one of my dearest friends. I cannot be responsible for his inability to campaign properly. Yes, I am a skilled orator and very quick on my feet and always well prepared… I majored in voice and articulation at Clearwater College.
If the truth be known, I did not set up the debates between myself and Hardly. It was my opponent who requested we have some hand to hand public discussions. It was all done under the auspices of the League of Person’s Voters- a fine organization (coincidentally Auntie Emma Louise Bogus Pennypacker is the president of the group). I did not feel that the election was slipping away. I was thoroughly enjoying the debate when my opponent launched a below the belt attack.
He began asking inane questions about my voting record, my stand on economic development, and what I had brought back to my district in the past 22 years. It was then and only then that I began to counterattack. I questioned his stance on such issues as incest, spousal abuse, cloning, the spread of Socialism across the nation, Osama Bin Laden, Lady Gaga and many more. He seemed to take each of these questions personally.
You know that I always come prepared for a fight and I sure was then. I read off all the courses that he had taken in mortician school to the audience. Would you believe there was no course on Americanism, the family or patriotism or ethical behavior? He was loaded down with chemistry, biology, forensics, anatomy and a course on Marxist theory ( a part of his political science class).
My opponent was shocked to hear that I knew him so well. He stood on the podium and tried to find a water glass while I dispatched him to the trash heap of losers. If he had not opened the door with his audacious questions, it would have been a pleasant experience for both of us.
After reading this, I am sure that you will know that I am a person who puts his constituents before politics. It would be difficult to come to any of your fair towns because our state does not reimburse for out of state travel. Failing that I would love for you to know what the Bogus clan looks like- my wife Rhonda and two adopted sons- Ronson and Rambo. If you would like an 8 x 10 glossy photograph, I would be glad to autograph it for you and send it right back. Please address it to The Honorable Ronald T. Bogus, 21st legislative district, 201 Millard Fillmore Way, Xenophobia, Anxiety 23567. Please enclose a check for $20 made out to me. I do appreciate the opportunity to speak with you directly.

AND THEN THERE WERE SEVEN

Our first task in the program was to find out how to get rural kids to apply to the Lenfest prep school program. What rural parents would allow their 13 year old kid to leave home and hearth to go away to an unknown place far away from Franklin County? We advertised in the local papers, went to the schools and spoke to teachers, counselors, kids, ministers and oh so many others. We were fearful that some parents would see this as an opportunity to get rid of some bothersome children. It did not turn out that way at all.
In the years that the program was in effect, we constantly got the same number of applications from Franklin County- around 35. When we added five more schools some years later, the applications doubled to about 70. All of the applicants were youngsters who saw this scholarship ( worth about 35,000 dollars a year) as an educational jackpot. None of the 100 scholarship winners were students whose parents wanted them to go. The youngsters were the focal points of the initiative. Some parents never forgave us for “taking” their children away from them. It was only after they graduated from these prep schools that parents understood the kind of education that their children had gotten.
Yes, there were kids that dropped out, maybe about 6. There were also 3 prep school graduates who did not go to college or complete college, although two of them intend to finish. After getting all of the applications, we sat down with the four representatives from each of the schools- Wyoming Seminary, Mercersburg, Perkiomen, and Westtown. In some ways each of these schools was similar- long traditions, more boarders than commuters, post secondary aims was their priority. However, they were all different in some ways. Westtown was the first prep school to be gender inclusive. They were over 220 years old; Quaker inspired, and had girls there for that time. Mercersburg had begun for rural kids and was the most awe inspiring campus with lots of donations from the Lenfests.
Wyoming Seminary( Sem) had begun as a place where “Breaker Boys” ( kids from the coal mines) could get their education. Perkiomen was created by the Shwenkfelder’s religious group for religious education. It was the only school that had a program for learning disabled kids. In the years of the program we operated with them as a unit and grew to love all of the people there. They took care of our students and made exceptional efforts to help them along the way. We were pleased that we had selected those schools.
We advertised widely in Franklin County (as we would for the next group of schools) to have parents and students come with us to the various schools. No parent could go to more than two schools, although one set of parents conned us into going to all four. Some of the parents were not too thrilled with the schools and many were astounded at what the schools had to offer.
The students were equally impressed with the schools. Many of the students that went with us on the bus trips throughout the years, applied to the program. Some who did not make it the first year, tried a second time and sometimes made it. We even had two sets of sisters make it. Parents who were not happy with the schools sometimes did things like not get off the bus when we got to a school. Westtown, with its obvious Quaker heritage made some of our more fundamentalist parents wary. Those students did not apply.
After the applications were sorted out, we went to each of the public schools to interview the kids. We broke up into groups, so that there was a member of the Foundation and a member of the prep school in each interview group. We had a ball interviewing these youngsters. For the most part these were not the absolute tops in their classes, but they all had so many things to recommend the. In the end we selected 12 students that first year. They all accepted their assignments. They were not all going to one school, Mercersburg in Franklin County, but were spread over the four schools.
The most interesting part of the selection process was the choosing of what schools the students would go to. There was an actual NFL type draft process, a pick at each turn, with pulling places out of a hat to see who would go first. Chris Tompkins of Mercersburg, Kate Holtz of Westtown, Randy Granger of Wyoming Seminary and Carol Daugherty were the general managers of their teams. After each choice, the schools and their reps (mostly two people from each school) would retire to another room at the Mercersburg Inn to decide on the next pick. It went round by round until we selected the first twelve Lenfest Scholars.
Each of the four schools received 3 scholars and off we went on the first year. The first year students were a shakedown cruise. We were very aware of the possible problems that rural kids would have going away to a “foreign” place. Two of our first year kids dropped out of the program after their first year there and went back to public school. One was successful and one was not. The rest of the students made it all the way to graduation. Our first entry in school was Amber Oberholtzer who had originally come from a Mennonite background and was our first scholarship winner. She went to the University of Pennsylvania and has since completed her five years there and is working as a nurse.
The next years we expanded to 18 and then to 24 scholarship winners. We have dealt with as many problems as you can possible think about. Almost all of our students have gone to college- many of them to the finest colleges in the country. Gerry had wanted all of the students to go to Harvard and Yale and Princeton. We could not have achieved that, but we tried. We do have a number at Ivy League schools, but most are in schools that suit them, whether a state school or an art school in Savannah or in New York City or a school specializing in the teaching of Chinese language in Puget Sound on the West Coast. We have had a ton of students go to foreign countries on our dime, and two who have spent a year abroad as seniors. They have gotten some of the greatest educational experiences.
A few years ago Gerry decided that his money could be best spent by going back to our original suggestion of having a college scholarship. In that light, he stopped funding students for the Perkiomen school and then closed the program down for new entrants. There are no more Lenfest Prep school scholars coming into the program. The entire program will end in June of 2010. We will miss the once a year get togethers with all of our Lenfest Scholarship kids. We have had many of them at our house and actually took four of the rising senior girls to six colleges just a few weeks ago. We have always taken our scholars on bus trips to colleges. That was one of the programs great things. The students became aware of what a college might look like. We also talked to them about financial aid and had a session for the senior and junior parents at the PHEAA offices.
Although there are only seven scholars left , and the program ends in 2011, we will not lose connections with the kids. They come to visit us and spend time with us, call us and email us and yes even Facebook Carol. We are in constant contact with most of them and are following their college and career adventures and misadventures. Sometimes they call us with problems and we try and help- whether personal, job related or just a time to talk. Some have begun families and we see their children in person or in pictures.We will never lose contact and that goes for both programs. Those kids have become part of our lives.