When I was twelve years old, my family moved from a farm we rented in Manheim, Penna., to the “home place,” the farm my parents bought from my grandparents.
That move, I now recognize, changed my life.
I went from being a moderately engaged student trying to fit in with a social crowd to being a very motivated student who was not afraid to be different. What happened? I had new teachers who expected that I could do and be more than I had previously imagined.
One of those teachers was Miss Joan Riehl.
- With Miss Riehl
Miss Riehl named me “Rosy Cheeks.” She had a nickname for everyone, but she seemed to really congratulate herself on picking this one. Her eyes always twinkled when she said it.
A few months ago, I got a letter from Miss Riehl, asking how I was doing. She had lost touch after I left the presidency of Goshen College, so I proposed that we get together the next time I was back in my home town of Lititz, visiting my mother. We agreed on the Tomato Pie Cafe. The picture above shows us after a long conversation over tea and carrot cake. We had not seen each other for 46 years.
She still calls me Rosy Cheeks.
I still call her Miss Riehl.
With Karin Larson Krisetya
A few weeks later, I got a visit in my Virginia home from a former student, Karin Larson Krisetya, and her two delightful children, Elia and Svea.
Within the span of three months I had reconnected deeply with both a mentor and a protege. Doing so felt like making a complete rotation on the Wheel of Life.
In the middle of those three months I took a trip to Greece and Turkey. The story of The Odyssey came alive for me in a new way as I traveled in a three-masted gulet ship on the Mediterranean.
I thought of the goddess Athena who disguised herself as an Old Man named Mentor in order to guide the inexperienced young Telemachus. That story holds such power it is still seen as a model for all mentorship.
I have had wonderful mentors in my life. Writing a memoir brings many of them back to me. Not all of them are living, but all of them were essential. I would never have had the courage to leave home, nor the desire to stay connected to home, without them.
The best way to thank a mentor is to be a mentor. I’ve tried to do that also. Those students, young teachers, and budding executives who asked for my mentorship have taught me more than I may have taught them.
While Karin visited with us, she felt a clear call to become a teacher herself. This fall she will be teaching English in Manila, the Philippines, where I am sure she will become a mentor to many.
So, on my 64th birthday, I get to give a toast. This one is for all the mentors and mentors yet to be.
Please use the response section below to honor one of your mentors. And then be sure to send this message to them as your thank-you note. I’ll be sure to share with Miss Riehl!
I had a high school teacher, Mrs. Miles, who helped me to believe in myself as a writer and who had bigger dreams for me than I did for myself. I had her for English for three years in high school, and she nurtured my writing and urged me to apply to a more prestigious college than I had planned to. And I got accepted! She helped shape who I was to become. And I thank her for it.
Let’s hear it for Mrs. Miles! She took you miles beyond. Thanks for sharing this story, Tina.
Sounds like Happy Birthday is in order, and what a great gift — a protege following in your footsteps. Beautiful. These are also splendid photos, showing the aptness of your nickname.
My most influential teachers were in fifth grade and grad school. The first introduced the concept of multi-media presentations. Back then that meant lantern slides and opaque projector enlargements on posters. The second pounded on me to set other things aside and WRITE — eventually I got that message. Today … with screen sharing and Google Hangouts, multimedia possibilities for sharing that writing and encouraging others on that path are absolutely limitless and I’m digging in.
Sharon, isn’t it great when we can continue to use technology as new methods come along, even at “a certain age”? Your teachers showed you how writing and sharing were part of your calling. Now you are showing others. I love it! Thanks,
Happy Birthday, Shirley! Let me say, I proudly call you one of my valued Memoir mentors. So thank you. I feel so blessed to have been surrounded by so many wonderful mentors my whole life. My Great-Grandma Rose planted the seeds of faith in me when I was a young girl. The faith has blossomed to guide me in my life’s journey. Along the way, I’ve had so many caring people who have helped me to believe in myself. Beyond my loving parents and family, there were school teachers and nursing mentors. I could never narrow it down to just a few names. Now I am surrounded by an incredible memoir community-besides you, Sharon Lippincott, Jerry Waxler, Linda Joy Myers, LInda K. Thomas and all my fellow memoir writers who are making my journey possible. Thank you all so much!
Thank you, Kathy. Your birthday greetings certainly added to the movable feast I experienced, moving from Canterbury, UK, in the morning to Harrisonburg, VA. at night. And thank you for mentioning both your personal mentors in all dimensions of life but also your memoir mentors. You are one of mine, also, Thank you!
I owe an incalculable debt to a young woman just out of college who taught me to read—by then I was in third grade! Donna Tule saw that I needed help and gave it to me. I have never been able to find her to thank her; her last name probably changed with marriage, and when my wife tried hard to surprise me seven years ago she got shot down by the state of Florida. So . . . I owe her a lot but have been unable to thank her! I have tried to help my own students and pass it along.
Amazing, Richard. And to think that you, an exceptionally gifted reader and writer, may never have found your passion without Donna Tule’s individual care as a teacher. Did the state of Florida prevent research? I wasn’t quite certain what you meant by your wife getting “shot down by the state”. But even if you can’t reach her, you reach your own students. I know she would approve!!
Yes, the state of Florida would not reveal information. But after I commented I spent some time with googling and found an article on the great job she was doing with hearing impaired children. She was across the state in Sarasota by then, two years after I graduated from college—and returend to the state as a newspaper reporter. I only found that one article. She’d be about 79 today if alive.
This moment, I would like to thank Adrienne Keith, whose fire-igniting writing exercises in a long ago workshop in Portland, OR made an enormous difference for me. I still often use those notes and story beginnings as a springboard.
I have been blessed with so many mentors and will use this nudge to send some personal thank yous. Thank YOU, Shirley, for your many thought provoking and educational posts.
Chris at flashmemoirs.com
Hi, Christine! Welcome here. I’m fascinated by the http://www.flashmemoirs.com website. Can you tell us more about it?
You bring in another kind of teaching — workshops for adults. Thanks for reminding us that we can find mentors at all stages in the journey of life.
Happy Birthday, Shirley!
The person who made me believe I could write was my eighth grade English Teacher, Mrs. Hall. (She must be long dead–was in her fifties in 1962. Mrs. Hall sent my Father’s Day essay into the Father of the Year Contest and it won a regional award. (I posted this on my blog for Father’s Day this past June, fifty years after it was written). That little recognition gave me confidence to keep trying, and I’m ever grateful to Mrs. Hall for her encouragement and belief in me. It takes a generous heart to mentor, and I applaud all those who put in the effort, like you did, Shirley.
Thanks, Linda. It sounds like Mrs. Hall not only encouraged your writing but also the subject matter you love most, family history.
Isn’t it amazing, looking back, to see how much a little confidence we can gain from the encouragement of an adult we admire.
Such a powerful force for good! Thanks for your story. I’m sure your Father’s Day post is excellent. I invite you to add the URL if you feel so inclined.
Thanks for offering to let me share the link on the story of my mentoring English teacher and the resulting essay.
Here is the link to the “Father of the Year” post on my blog.
This is a theme dear to your heart. I know that because of the way you comment on ALL of the comments we writers and budding writers make – the way you support us in our work and give us confidence.
Thank you for being our memoir mentor!
I’ve had some great teachers and the one I remember id my French Math teacher, Mr. Ankoua in Paris. Funny how my Math teacher made me enjoy math and think I was good at it, and my English and history teacher made me not enjoy those subjects and yet, I’m publishing a memoir that got an endorsement from a NY Times bestseller. That doesn’t make sense to me. I am so glad you met Mrs. Riehl, She looks adorable, and so happy.
Diane, Rosy Cheeks is blushing. 🙂
You are right about my passion for learning and teaching, showing and sharing.
Blessings to you as you continue to name the sacred in the ordinary.
Sonia, you name another way teacher’s motivate us — by NOT seeing all that we are capable of. Then gutsy girls like you decide you will not let that lack of encouragement stop you. And, guess what, you are about to become an author!!
I can hardly wait to print out this post and comments and give it to Miss Riehl next week. Thank you for adding to the stock of stories to share.
I don’t know about mentor–goddess, maybe. Miss Lois Fretz taught elementary French at EMC. In her pencil skirts and high-up hairdo, and astonishingly poised, she was the epitome of classy. Because I couldn’t look dumb and disappoint her, I studied furiously.
I think she’s Lois Martin now. Maybe I’ll try to track her down.
“Because I couldn’t look dumb and disappoint her, I studied furiously.”
Oh so true, Shirley! I even studied math because Mr. Noll was so suave and tall and handsome and seemed to think I could be as smart in math as I was in history and English. Do try to find Lois. I remember her elegance also.
Thanks so much for your sensitive comment on my Father of the Year post. You’re being a true mentor to all of us aspiring memoirists!
Mrs Phileta E Burnham Springer was my high school English teacher and she was a treasure. Tall like me (and yes, elegant, unlike mel) she managed to get me a scholarship to a class at Illinois Wesleyan that would have given me college credit while in high school. (AP classes didn’t exist then, at least not in my high school of 48 total students.) Unfortunately, I couldn’t attend as we didn’t have a way for me to travel that distance at night. But what an encouragement!
Sara Hartzler at GC was another mentor. We had more of a conflicted relationship but she was very good at sprinkling “did you ‘write’ this mess at 2am with no revisions?” with “rewrite it before tomorrow night and I’ll send it for publication in [a national] anthology.” 🙂 And I’ll never forget her admonition: “Wherever you work, always make friends with the janitor/housekeeping staff.”
Neill Keneipp was a great teacher; I especially loved geometry. He allowed each of us to work ahead on our own in math classes; otherwise there wouldn’t have been anything close to ‘advanced’ math in a class of 15 total students. His method of showing us just enough of a problem to get us interested in solving it really worked for me!
What a great selection of teacher stories, Elaine. I love the name Phileta E Burnham Springer. I think I can see her swoop into the room in long skirts. I knew Sara, of course, and all of those memories are quintessential. Your geometry teacher knew one of the secrets of a good educator: dangle a challenge!
I’m off to check out your blog. Thanks for the comment.
As far as writing goes, Mrs. Shirley Waite was for sure a mentor to me. When I was in high school, I had a traumatic experience where a little boy I loved died. I wrote the experience into a little story. My mother showed it to her friend, Shirley. Shirley saw something in me, in my writing, something…I’m not sure what. She helped me shine the piece and suggested I send it into the Guideposts Youth Writing Contest. I did and I won a scholarship.
Fast forward about 20-years. Shirley remained a friend of my mothers. She was now in her late 70’s. I had used that scholarship to get a degree in teaching and spent many years teaching. I never imagined doing anything else. But as life would have it – I got kicked around a bit and ended up being unable to continue teaching. After floundering around for a few years, trying to figure out what my ill health would allow me to do, I remembered that long-ago experience and began writing.
My memoir, Breaking the Code came out on 11/1/11. Shirley is thanked in the acknowledgements section. Thank you, Shirley…for seeing something in me that I didn’t see in myself! And for unknowingly planting a seed that I’d sow many years later. ~Karen
I love teacher stories! Thanks for sharing, Karen. And of course I love it that your teacher-mentor’s name was Shirley. 🙂
Congratulations on being both a teacher yourself and a published author. I’m sure Shirley is proud of you.
[…] the Tomato Pie Cafe, where I met up with one of my favorite teachers, Miss Joan Riehl and told the story of our reunion here. Since then, I’ve visited with Miss Riehl again, and with Jean Price, the wife of my […]
Miss Riehl was at our class reunion in 2010. It was so good to see her again, she is a great memory from WHS (class of 1965). But, my mentor was Mrs. Elsie Zug, who was the reason I became a Home Economics teacher! I sure wish I had gotten back to Lititz to see her, she would have been pleased. I also owe a debt of thanks to my second grade teacher, Miss Frantz, who helped me stay with my class after being the hospital with Polio for all of first grade. And, Mr. Lester Lahr, who was sensitive to my needs, and helped me with a love for crafts so I was able to stay inside in bad weather when my brace made it difficult to go outside. I was blessed to have lived in a wonderful compassionate little town, as you well know as the “coolest”…Lititz, PA!
Hi, Janice, so good to see you here and to have these words of appreciation for your own favorite teachers. I so enjoyed our time together at Marcia’s house and hope to see you again in Sept. (on the 19th at 7 p.m. at Lititz Mennonite Church). I had a great day visiting Lititz with my college friends yesterday. They all agree that it is indeed the coolest small town.