A Teacher’s Unusual Gift

Lowell L. Getz

When we hear stories of a teacher having had a major impact on a person’s life, we typically think of one who provided inspiration and motivation that led to realization of latent potentials.  In my case, however, the teacher who changed my life became pregnant.

My freshman and sophomore high school years, 1945-1947, were spent in a school of 32 students and three teachers in Chesterfield, Illinois.  I was an utterly apathetic student, as evidenced by horrendous grades, which consisted entirely of C’s and D’s.  My future prospects were dismal and I did not care.

In the spring of 1946 one of the teachers, Mrs. Frances Hook, became pregnant and could not teach the following year.  Because of a shortage of teachers, the Directors were unable find a qualified replacement.  Wanda Leach, who had finished her junior year at the University of Illinois and was taking a year off to help her parents was asked to teach at Chesterfield.  She agreed to do so, with the understanding she would return to college the next year.

The next year, the Directors could not find a teacher.  Francis Hook would not return to teaching so soon after becoming a mother.  The county had decided that beginning fall 1948, Chesterfield would merge with the Carlinville school district.  The Directors, therefore, decided that for the 1947-48 school year the district would pay the tuition for students to attend high school in either Carlinville or the nearby small town, Medora.  I elected to attend Carlinville.

Because most of my friends went to Medora, I seldom saw them.  With nothing else to do, I studied.  My first six-week grades were two A’s and two B’s, grades I had never seen before.  This gave me incentive to study even more.  I made straight A’s for the junior and senior years.  With these credentials and newfound motivation, I applied to and was admitted to the University of Illinois.  There, too, I did well, achieving a number of academic honors.  Upon graduation in June 1953, I was commissioned a Second Lieutenant in the U.S. Army.

Following two years of active duty I entered the Ph.D. program in Zoology at the University of Michigan.  After receiving my Ph.D., I was awarded a two-year research position at the University of Michigan.  In September 1961 I accepted a faculty position at the University of Connecticut.  In September 1969 I returned to the University of Illinois as Professor of Zoology, where I remained, serving as Department Head for 12 years, until I retired in 1997.  At both Universities I obtained Federal funding for extensive research programs.  I have over 200 publications and am listed in Who’s Who In America.

After leaving active duty in 1955, I remained in the Army Reserves for 28 years, eventually retiring as a Colonel in Medical Intelligence.

During the summer of 1950 I was employed as a fisheries biologist by the Illinois Department of Conservation and assigned to Beaver Dam Lake near Carlinville, where I lived alone in a trailer.  Once and awhile in the evenings I went to a movie in Carlinville.  Upon returning to the University that fall, I told my roommate, Roy, of an attractive high school girl, Mary Ruth Clardy, who took tickets at the Marvel Theater.  Roy wanted to know why I had not asked her for a date.  I had assumed that as pretty and friendly as she was, she did not want for dates, especially from strangers trying to pick her up at work.  He suggested I write her, but I thought that also too presumptuous.  After several weeks of haranguing, Roy convinced me to write Mary Ruth.  I did so with what had to be the most hokey “pick up letter” ever.  Mary Ruth was polite, however, and answered.  In July 2008 we celebrated our 55th wedding anniversary.

Not a single one of these things would have come to pass had I spent one more year at Chesterfield High.  With no skills, too frail for farm or any other heavy work, no motivation, and no purpose in life, it is frightening to think what would have become of me.  I was on a slippery downhill path to nowhere.

And, so it was, an act of personal intimacy created one life, a daughter, and in the process gave me a life, a life that I could not have imagined in my wildest dreams.  Truly, an unusual teacher’s gift.