JOHN PASSED AWAY

A chapter in the book of life is now closed. My good buddy and colleague John Rohrbach passed away at the Topton Lutheran Home on November 13, 2015. John and I had been friends for 42 years. I worked with him when I was the principal at Kutztown Area Junior High School from 1973 to 1977. He was also guidance counselor to my son when he was at the junior high.
There will be no more shaggy dog stories ending with a corruption of a famous saying such as, “The beer that made Milt Famey Walk Us,” or “ It’s a long way to Tip a Rarey,” or “ A Snitch in Thyme Saves Nine.” Yes, they were all hokey. He made some up and co-opted others. His manner of presentation was all John and no one else.
Carol and I traveled from our Thanksgiving Day dinner with our family to Kutztown to join family and friends of John in paying a tribute to him. Some of my old colleagues, Bill Moyer and his wife Jane, Jeff Collier and his wife, Harry McGonigle, and Steve Breiniger (a fly fisherman with John). John’s son Kurt and daughter Lisa spoke of him as their dad and the influence he had over them. John was a strict dad, but with a sense of humor about it.
That was John in his role as guidance counselor. He helped thousands of kids go from annoying adolescence to young women and men. There was no doubt that when you went in to see John, you had a serious problem that he would help you resolve, whether in school or at home. There was evidence, actual statistical evidence that the kids thought that John was the best. In a statewide test that was given in those years, there was a section on guidance counselors that you had to fill out. John was consistently in the 99th percentile. How about that for a record.
John was also an inveterate prankster. I know that from personal experience. He once engineered the removal of all of my furniture from my office when I was away for one day at Lehigh University. He also stapled a string to the grating of our refrigerator and a small carton of milk. When I grabbed it to pour into my coffee, it spilled all over me. One day, I came in wearing a raincoat. At the end of the day, upon leaving, I found all sorts of small springs attached to the coat. I asked John about it and he told me that it was appropriate for a Spring Coat.
When I asked John about getting a feeling from the kids about what was going on behind the scenes in the school, he invented Group A and later Group B. He assembled a group of students from all of the various categories of kids, nerds, bad boys, jocks, cheerleaders, special education kids, shy kids and many others. He met with them each Friday during club period. He told them that everything they said would be confidential. Although I would have like to have gotten some information from those meetings, John held steadfast to his promise to the kids. The information that I was seeking was not extant, but the info that John got helped him with many students in the school.
In his later years, after we were both retired, John and I spent many hours talking to each other on the phone. The conversations were always about what the former students were doing, marriages, education, and children and so on. He was also very proud of his own children. He would question me about my own children and wax eloquent about what they were doing.
Towards, the very end, after a serious car accident, I would come to his home, whenever I could and would go to the Bowers hotel to have lunch. I also took him to a Kutztown Area Junior High School faculty reunion. He had a great time at both.
I will miss John. I knew that if I needed his wise counsel, he would always be there, with a Pennsylvania Dutch joke. I could spend a long while him telling me jokes in Pennsylvania Dutch. He had that way about him that endeared him to so many young folks. They will also miss him.

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WHO AM I ?

I am all of you.You needed me and I was created.
When you were new and growing, you saw in me a way to keep you free. I was born to serve democracy in its times of triumph and its times of despair.
When all others refused a task, you asked for my help. I never refused. I worked with the refugees and the outcasts of the world to make them knowing and free.
I am midwife to genius and the ne’er do well. When the first stone is cast, I stand between you and the real targets.
I am sometimes demanding and always enlightening. I was wrong for some and right for many. I am America at its zenith and in its turmoil. I am president and prisoner. billionaire and pauper. I am buildings and I am people. I am democracy, but never a dictatorship.
I am public education. I am good and I work.

STRONG WOMEN

I was raised by strong women. When I was four years old, my father died, leaving my mother, my older sister and I with no place to live and no money. We went to live with my maternal grandmother and grandfather on the lower east side of Manhattan. My grandma was a tall forceful woman, who had lived through World War I without her husband, but with her four children. She arrived on these shores in 1921 and made a life for herself and her family. She was a staunch leader in our family and would brook no interference from anyone, not even her husband. Grandma spoke and we all listened.

My mom was someone who paralleled grandma in many ways. She was a fierce protector of her children. They were the most important things in her life. Her story is long and complicated. However, there was no crossing mom. I can recall instances when she would defy all of the rules just to make a point. She waitressed for 35 years to keep her family together.

My older sister, at age 84, is still someone you don’t want to cross. She is still the strident young women I knew when I was growing up and being babysat by her. She used to take me along on her dates and woe be to the young man who complained about my presence. Even today, she has her views on things social, economic and political. Her three daughters are pretty much in her image. They are forceful, know their own minds and sure of the pathways of their lives.

All of these women had their soft sides. Outsiders may not have seen it, but I have on numerous occasions. I can still call my nieces, who are physicians, and get some help with any kind of physical problem. They also keep their own families at the forefront of their obligations. They are all natural descendants of my grandmother.

I was fortunate to find the same kind of blend of strength and kindness in the woman that I married. I have written about how my wife can sit down with a child and straighten them out with just a series of words, “I am very disappointed in your behavior.” I can’t understand how that works, but it gets our grandchildren every time. She taught gifted children for 13 years and worked her magic on a variety of little ones. I have seen it firsthand.

Our daughter fits that mold to a T. She is the mom of three children. She has two jobs and does both of them well. Her straightforward way of communicating reminds me somewhat of my sister. Her friends, acquaintances, business associates, know that when she speaks, they had better listen. She is also one of the kindest people that I know. As I see her daughter grow into womanhood at age 15, I see the same kind of forthrightness that her maternal antecedents had/have.

This is certainly not a paean to all women, or a slight to all males. It is just my own background and my family’s. However, there is a point to what I am saying. As I watch the procession of talking heads propounding the news about the current presidential election cycle, I am dumbfounded by how women candidates are treated.

Even on the debate stage, one candidate points to a woman candidate and disses her facial expressions. How often are we going to hear about the different hair styles and clothing worn by the female candidates? This is not the only time that this has happened. It appears that women’s looks are fair game for opponents and the media. This is certainly not a liberal or conservative addiction. It is somehow, a slap against strong women.

It has been going on for a long while. Maybe it has been exacerbated by the women’s liberation movement? The scorn heaped upon those women, even by other women, was a surprise to me. Why do we not want to see any more Margaret Thatchers or Golda Meiers? Is there some trigger that makes us suspect that these women are somehow a threat to the established order? Would we rather see women sitting around a table on television, gabbing about the inconsequential, or making doilies, cooking up a storm, or as hostesses of children’s programs?

I just don’t get it. I know that my upbringing is skewed, but really . . .

DON’T YOU REMEMBER THE 1960’S

Holy Moly Captain Marvel, the 1960’s are making a comeback. It could really be a cameo, but it feels so familiar. The clarion call of the young for more freedom on campus and some really dumb moves by the campus administrators. Then we have the braying of the Agnewites saying that the administrators are “wimps” and the protestors at the University of Missouri are children playing some sort of game. They should be restricted in their right to protest.

Yup, we have heard it all before. The fear that these folks have is that this will spread to every liberal campus in the United States. Violence will surely follow and our country will go down the tubes. It will all end with a Kent State happening.

The University of Missouri is not a bastion of liberal thought. They are not part of the East Coast Elite Establishment universities. Freedom of speech has a really sharp edge. Reactionaries in our country decry, with angry fervor, that their speech is being restricted by a government that hates them and uses its tentacles to subvert their causes.

Bias in the news world, according to some, ramps up these “kids” to affect even more of their unreasonable demands. What should occur is that these provocateurs should either be horsewhipped or sent to some gulag away from society. After all, these hoodlums have gotten into these schools by nefarious means. They don’t really belong there. What they need to do is stop clogging up the student body and go out and get a real job. That will show them what life it really like.

Many of these ne’er do wells are sucking of the federal mammary, their own state’s largesse, or their parents hard earned income. They should either get out of a place that they hate or stick their noses in books and don’t take them out till they graduate. Many of them will come to a bad end.

It is so easy to write this stuff. All I have to do is click back to my memories of the 1960’s, the Democratic Convention of 1968 in Chicago, and the newsreels in my mind. I have no idea what the protests were about in Missouri or Yale or any other university across the United States. The one thing that I would protest is the cost of college. Kids are now coming out of school with unmanageable debt. One of our scholars will owe 100,000 by the end of this next semester. Actually, that’s not the largest figure I have heard. How are they really going to pay off these loans? Let’s all protest that.

 

 

 

 

LET’S CALL IT AS WE SEE IT

 

South Carolina is in a terrible educational mess. A recent ranking of the state, by a partisan organization has put the state at the bottom of the heap (in education that is). It is difficult to be number 51 (D.C. included). Let’s dispense with the “money doesn’t matter” discussion. Of course money matters, if used correctly. However, this is not just a matter of resources. This is a matter of the lives of the next generation of South Carolinians.

Our brief sojourn here has now lasted about four months. We are not usually given to quick judgements about a place in this short space of time. The newspapers are rife with descriptions of how poorly many counties in the state are doing. The statistics are almost horrifying. Try this one on for size. Of the 4.6 million residents of the state, a full 25% are on Medicaid. This gives us some idea of how poverty stricken people are here.

Is there a connection between poverty and education? If you have never seen any of the studies, it’s time for you to go onto Google, or Dogpile or any other search engine and take a look. It is disheartening to see the effects poverty has on how well kids do in school and how they fare in the workplace afterwards.

Despite all of the stories about how individuals climbed out of poverty to lead successful lives, those are really are the exceptions. One small story from our own experience gives us and idea of what is really going on in certain communities.

We got a call earlier in the year from the son of the billionaire that we had worked with. He had funded a scholarship program for poor rural kids. The son wanted us to help two young people from North Philadelphia with college problems. One young lady had no idea of how she was going to get into college and how to fund it. The other was a young man who had attended a state college and wanted to go back for a second year, but was behind the eight ball with debt to the school of $9,000. The first student finally got into a historically black college and is doing well. However, the young man had a huge problem.

He was frightened of staying in his community because he most surely been coerced or threatened to do things that he did not want to do. He was actually fearful of staying there. In his mind, he had one chance to escape and that was to go back to the state college. His situation was very complicated, but working together with him and his mom, Carol was able to reduce the debt. We really wanted him to go to a community college for a year and work and save some dough, so that he could go back to the state school the following year.

We found out that he went back to the state college this year because of his desire to get out of the community he lived in. He is a good student, but we have no idea how he might pay for school from this point on. Will he be one of the exceptions? We pray that he is. However, many of these kinds of stories do not have a happy ending. For every one exception, there are many kids who fall through the cracks and wind up on the wrong side of the law or the poverty train.

Despite the tall tales, by some, of how they lifted themselves out of poverty by their own bootstraps, I defy you to try and do that. I have tried with an old pair of boots and the only thing that happens is that you fall forward and land on your face.

Let’s leave the tale tellers to their stories and start dealing with the realities of life. We need to do something about what’s happening in schools here in South Carolina and elsewhere. Let’s not argue about who or what shall do it, let’s just do it.

I FEEL SORRY FOR JEB!

My friends and relatives who lived in Florida during Jeb Bush’s tenure as Governor did not cotton to him. He seemed to be someone who played nicely with the big corporations and the wealthy folk in his state. I was more impressed with him because he could speak Spanish and had a Spanish wife and children who could also speak Spanish. He seemed, at a glance, to be a nice guy. He reminded me of his dad. Although I was not a George H.W. Bush fan, I still found him to be a likeable person. I also admired his service in the military and his public service.

George H.W. and Barbara Bush had 6 children, one died of leukemia in her third year. You really don’t hear anything about Neil, Marvin, and Dorothy. They have all gone their separate ways. Dorothy was, at one time, an aide to Richard Gephardt, the majority leader of Congress and a Democrat. That leaves George W. and Jeb in the political ring.

The more I see of Jeb on to and listen to his ads, the more I wonder what would have happened if Donald Trump and Ben Carson had not entered the contest. I believe that Jeb would have fared much better than he has. He is correct about experience. He has it all over his political adversaries. His eight years as governor of Florida has given him executive experience. His lacking of any military experience might be his only drawback on that score. However, there are no other candidates on either side that have had experience with the armed forces.

Jeb’s demeanor is one of a nice guy. Even when he is angry, it seems contrived. His debate skills are lacking, as are his ability to mouth comebacks. I believe that he is really afraid of what he might say in those situations when he might need a Don Rickles comeback to someone else’s jibe. He is slow on the trigger. He reminds me of Andy Griffith in No Time for Sergeants when he is learning to curse and really doesn’t do well with it.

When it comes to policy, he has it all over the other Republican candidates. Somehow, I wish that he was as conversant with other kinds of talk. His plain talk about what he really feels should be kept to a minimum. He comes out as weak and unknowing. His posture with his legs spread out wide are an invitation to others, including questioners, to come after him. Who the heck is advising the guy?

Jeb has had an awful time defending his brother and his brother’s actions as president. Just wait till someone brings up the economy at the end of W’s tenure. Will he be able to defend that?

The crowning blow is now the book that “Poppy” has put out about his brother’s presidency. He will try and rationalize the description of Cheney and Rumsfeld that will not work. H.W. knows those two guys and knows that they did to undermine his son’s presidency. This book may be Jeb’s final undoing. Sometimes I think that he should have ads that do not contain either his face or his voice. Let someone else speak for him. Good luck Jeb. You will need it.

WHAT THE HECK IS HAPPENING TO US?

 

It’s all over the place now. It is in your eyes and in your ears. It is shouted from the rooftops and painted on tenement walls and abandoned factories. The words are clear and unambiguous. WE HATE YOU AND WE WANT YOU TO DIE OR GO BACK TO WHERE YOU CAME FROM. That’s what all the discourse is really about. Stay at home ladies. Don’t come here Syrians, Mexicans, Hondurans, Haitians, Cubans, Asians and anyone else who doesn’t look like me (by the way, what do we look like).

This might be o.k. for the xenophobic countries in the world, which have no Statue of Liberty or Ellis Island to look to. We are not like them. We have been built by immigrants from the beginning of our country. Other than Native Americans who may have come here 30,000 years ago across the Bering Straits, we are all descended from or are IMMIGRANTS. We have flooded our country with people who did not speak the King’s English (other than the English).

The counter to this argument is that these low wage people come and take the jobs of “true” Americans. They do all sorts of physical labor. They fill the hiring halls in our country, which thrills many corporations and also gambling casinos (yes, it’s a hint). These are the people who are at the lowest level of the economic ladder. There are developed countries in this world who invite guest workers, because their own people do not want those jobs. Sounds familiar doesn’t it.