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Sunday, June 26, 2016

Persons of Interest

Saturday, January 12, 2008

The above term, I gather from soaking up the last 16 years worth of TV's "Law and Order," is now used, instead of "suspect," to identify those poor souls whom the police suspect of having committed some crime or other, but about whom, I guess, the law doesn't yet have enough hard evidence to yank them off the street and toss them in the slammer.

Today, I'd prefer to use the term less pejoratively, to identify a group of aging (well, aren't we all aging?) souls with whom I've shared the last 32 years of my life teaching young women (well, in all truth they're still "girls" to me, and to themselves, too, I might add). All of us were gathered, late last Saturday morning, to attend the funeral mass for our late-friend and colleague Dr. Marie Berthe Lamore, held at Nevada's St. Mary's Catholic Church. As I sat listening to Father Joseph Powers deliver the service, I looked around at my fellow-celebrants, many of them a little stooped, gray-haired, lines of somewhat-less-than-easy living furrowing their faces. Just like me.

I've been retired from teaching at Cottey now for some six years, and although, at this point in my life, looking back at all my years here, which exceed the time I've lived anywhere else, I wouldn't trade that experience for the world, there were moments in the 1970s and '80s, when I was sorely tempted to abandon my Cottey classroom, gather up daughter Jessica and wife Ginny, and hop the next bus back home to New York. Indeed, the first few years of teaching English at Cottey were rough on my little family and on its slim wallet.

For one thing, the college president's 1975 board-approved edict that faculty, most of whom had only their MA degrees, earn their PhD's as well led most Cottey teachers to vote to unionize under the banner of the AFL-CIO. Thus, at a single stroke of the pen, a cordial and easy-going faculty split itself into the larger group of militant union members and the smaller one of resentful non-union members.

And if that doesn't sound so disruptive and antagonistic, let me draw for you a sketch of a bright, conscientious, and brand-new non-union chemistry teacher, Niccolo Orsini, who began to literally quake in terror (I saw him) at the sight of a union member coming toward him in the hall. Union member versus non-union member; union member versus administrator; our very smallness aggravated our antagonism. We were tearing ourselves apart.

It was Helen Washburn's presidency that persuaded most of us we no longer needed a labor union, that we could trust her to oversee the long and arduous process of reshaping ourselves into a cohesive and student-oriented group of teachers, with no nearly tangible threat of being fired by a vengeful administration hanging over our heads.

When, at age 35, I'd learned to love my first Cottey students and many of my colleagues, and joined CCFF, its AFL-CIO union, I'd pictured the administrators whom I considered my tormentors and thought, "I can outlive them." And so it proved to be.

As Ginny and I sat in St. Mary's Church, last Saturday morning, listening to Father Powers officiating at the late Dr. Marie Lamore's funeral mass, I remembered reading her obituary the night before, and being somewhat staggered by her accomplishments. She'd earned more degrees than a thermometer: according to her obituary, before she came to Nevada with her husband Don, "She finished pre-medical (PCB) and pre-engineering courses and joined the research staff of the department of biology and embryology of the University of Algers," and the list of honors and accomplishments rolled on and on, like the closing credits of a very long movie.

But what will stay with me longer than anything else about my colleague Dr. Marie Lamore is a memory of watching her, one Wednesday evening, in my second year there, as I supervised a meeting of Phi Theta Kappa in PEO dorm parlor, carrying a little packet of papers through a cold, snowy night from her office in the Academic Building to Robertson dorm, where a sick French student lay recuperating and waiting for Marie to bring her a make-up test for her to take then and there. What that showed me, early in my Cottey career, was that a good teacher is utterly selfless, but expects much from all his/her students. That, it's always seemed to me, is how you learn to be a good teacher, not by reading a book on teaching or listening to a lecture, but by having a few exemplary models. A couple is all it takes.

A lot of good teachers left campus during Cottey's Iron Age, for a variety of reasons. But those attending Marie's funeral mass last Saturday were survivors. Dyke and Becky Kiel, Sinan Ozkal, Richard Brown, Tina Norton, Inez Byer, and Don Lamore himself, of course, have always looked to the good of the College, and, in the process, have let the corrosive antagonisms and enmities of the past evaporate.