One of my favorite TV programs, CBS Sunday Morning with Charles Osgood, must have spent a third of Sunday’s show acknowledging the passing of important people in the year 2014.
Bernice Schultz was not among them although to my mind she should have been.
Mrs. Schultz died at her home in Winter Park, Florida a week before Christmas. She’d made it to age 96.
I’m guessing that nearly everyone who’s enjoyed a smidgen of success in life, had a special school teacher to thank for helping them turn a critical corner and make some key life decisions. For me, that teacher was Mrs. Schultz.
I had a bad case of insecurity when entering high school in 1961. First off, I was fat. Second off, my older brother, Denny, who had graduated the year before, had set quite a precedent for me to follow; not athletically or scholastically but by being one of the popular “cool” kids who not only had the greatest duck butt haircut but also the uncanny ability, with his quick wit, to charm teachers and fellow students into liking him. (He would have been a state champion debater if he’d only joined the club.) And, third off, I was convinced that nobody understood or appreciated me..except for my cousin Grouse (Lawrence Gruseth) who had his own set of challenges.
I was pretty tall and knew how to play sports but was so self conscious about the possibility that coach Harry Prendergast would have me be part of the “skins” team during basketball practice, I never went out for the team in High School. Because of my size, he also wanted me to try out to play center on the football team. I didn’t dare tell him about my claustrophobia and the thought of how being at the bottom of a pile of guys would kill me. One day when it was raining hard, I didn’t show up for practice and was kicked off the squad. Humiliation..but no tears from me.
So, there I was with only Grouse to share my thoughts and dreams with about being a rock and roll or broadcasting star.
We wanted the same exact things he and I..but in that year of 1961, life really went haywire when throat cancer first took the voice and then the life of Grouse’s Mom..my aunt.. Esther. Grouse, his dad and brother were absolutely lost without her and until they got a housekeeper a year or so later, needed all the help they could get. More on that in a minute.
It was clear from the first moment I stepped into Mrs. Schultz’s English class that she wasn’t like any teacher I’d had. She made it clear right off the bat that we weren’t kids anymore and she wasn’t about to treat us like it; Learn or burn..it was up to us.
This stuff is going to be important in our lives and it’s her job to get it through our thick skulls. She knew all about the English language, including some of its more colorful words which she wasn’t afraid to use in order to emphasize a point when the situation warranted. But if anybody needed help, she’d make time to see you got it.
Toward the end of that first year she had me stay after class one day for a chat. “Doug, I don’t know why you can’t seem to get the grammar part of the curriculum but your writing is not bad. I want you to take journalism classes next year and I’d like you to work on the school paper..okay?” Well, she knew I’d probably never figure out how to diagram a sentence or know a predicate from a dangling participle but that day gave me a boatload of confidence. Over the next three years, she was my go-to source for advice on just about everything..be it English, Journalism or life in general. I’m also quite sure she was the one who put a bug in the ear of Kenneth Joy about casting me in the one act play he was directing for which I won best actor in the regional contest. I’ve since learned she made dozens..perhaps hundreds of other students feel just as special..but at the time it felt like just me….oh, and cousin Grouse.
I asked if he’d write a few lines about his experience at a most critical time:
After mom died, Mrs. Schultz took a lot of interest in my well being. For some reason she became worried about my shoes being worn down on the heel…She evidently thought that I had a plethora of writing talent, so she took it upon herself to get me an after school and Saturday job with Pat Leary at the Volga Tribune. That evolved into a full time summer job with plenty of time off for rock and roll jobs. For SDSU journalism-printing students spending a quarter term at the Shotgun was the equivalent of an internship. This meant that I was in contact with just about every journalism student to graduate from SDSU from ’62 thru 68. So, after I got married and decided that I’d better get a degree, journalism was the most prudent choice of majors. Broadcast journalism was new at SDSU and sounded much more exciting than print…so that’s the direction I chose. We ran out of money after my junior year so I applied for a job in continuity at KELO….got it and started writing commercials and booth announcing. After a couple years, we returned to SDSU, finished the coursework and went to KSOO-TV. In short, if Mrs. Schultz had not taken an interest in me as a person and gone out of her way to get me that little job at the Volga Tribune only the good Lord knows what would have become of me.
Mrs. Schultz and her late husband, Glenn, were instrumental in reorganizing Volga High School into the current Sioux Valley High School District; consolidating Volga, Bruce and Sinai. She stayed on at Volga until age 70 and then embarked on a snowbird lifestyle full of travel adventures eventually settling in Florida with her daughter Patti.
A lot of times, former students don’t get a chance to tell teachers how much of a positive influence they had on their lives. That’s not the case, though, with me and Mrs. Schultz. Ooops, Mrs. Schultz and “I”..no wait, Mrs. Schultz and “me.” Oh, hell.
30 years ago, for some odd reason, the principal asked me to be commencement speaker at my alma mater. Not only was my mom in the audience but so was Mrs. Schultz. I made sure to share the above stories at that time and on other occasions when our paths crossed over the years. She never failed to enjoy taking full credit with her usual gap toothed grin followed by a hearty laugh.
I was hoping to write a few words on the Funeral Home obituary web site..but it turns out..she apparently didn’t have a funeral in Winter Park..just went directly to the crematory.
That sounds like Mrs. Schultz. “Do your best work..then get the hell out without a lot of fanfare.”
Somebody is apparently planning a memorial service for her in Volga sometime.
I hope so. I know a lot of us would like to drink a toast to the old girl.