I have many memories of my grandpa. I spent most summers with him and Grandma in Michigan when I was younger. I didn't get out there nearly as much as I should have as an adult. But, I still looked up to him more than any other man in my life outside of my dad.
I could share many of those memories with you, now. Of fishing on Lake Miramichi, of trips to Florida, Canada or Mackinac Island, of hatching ducklings, or of the many letters he sent me offering me a quarter for every spelling error I found.
Instead, I would like to present you with another story. Grandpa loved to tell (and write) stories. This one is my favorite. Grandpa was a lifelong educator. He started as a high school teacher and retired superintendent. He even has a school named after him.
I regret that I wasn't able to have him meet Owen in person. I will miss him. I will miss his stories.
I REMEMBER My First Year as a Teacher, 1948-1949
By Fred Pankow
Joyce and I drove many miles on Michigan highways visiting several school districts seeking interviews for my first teaching position. Interviews were also conducted at the placement office of Central Michigan University; it is the school from which I graduated. Our first child (Gary) was born during final exam time at Central and the timing of his birth got me excused from one examination. With graduation my hope was to find a physical education teaching position. I soon learned that there were none, however, there seemed to be jobs for those who would accept positions which included coaching athletic teams. In those days girls had no competitive teams in most school districts. To find a teaching job I had to become a coach. I soon found such a position. On my first visit to Byron it seemed it was a long way into the countryside. I mentioned to Joyce, “We are going to run out of road before we get to this town.” After a few months the rather long drives to the big towns were a pleasure through the beautiful farmland.
In 1948 teachers were hired for whatever salary they agreed to. There was no union or salary schedule. There was no extra pay for and no bargaining about extra duties which may be assigned. A typical teaching assignment was one of, or a combination of, these subject areas: social studies, English, commercial, agriculture, homemaking, mathematics, wood shop, etc. My contract was as teacher of social studies, and sports’ teams’ coach. I looked forward to my assignment at $3,000 for the school year and was very happy to have found work.
As the coach for all sports it soon became apparent that field preparation, hiring officials, and recruiting ticket takers for home games was also my responsibility. It was on the job training.
The football team was 6-man football. I was coaching the first 6-man football team I had ever seen. We lacked some things: but never lacked team spirit or support from the community. A team father, John Dyer marked off the football field for me; his son Bill played on the team. We even had a lighted field which was built by the community. I continue to hear from Wanda (Dyer), Bill’s sister, and her husband Darrell Barnhart to this day.
We had two basketball teams. Games were played in the Town Hall where the playing court was less than regulation size. The team dressed in a room which was, at one time, a small storage room in the basement of the hall. There were no showers only a few benches.
Spring brought with it preparation for the baseball season. I learned to drive a school bus; at times I transported the team to away games. For home games it was my duty to coach the team and prepare the ball diamond. The equipment and much of the labor, for preparing the diamond, came from members of the community. Our home game umpire (only one was used standing behind the pitcher) was a full-time farmer and part time umpire, Henry Bird. Mr. Bird had the full umpire uniform and was totally aware of the rules of the game. He taught me a few things.
Shortly after we first moved to town (July. 1948) the Superintendent asked me to go to the Chevrolet auto dealer, in Owosso, and obtain the driver training car for the year. When I spoke to the dealership owner he informed me, “I am not providing a driver training car this year.” He felt there had been a problem the previous year, however, he was nice enough to once again provide the automobile for our students. Perhaps he felt sorry for the new kid on the block.
As the social studies teacher my assignment included 12th grade Civics (government), American History and World History I was also assigned the teaching of a chemistry class because I had taken college chemistry classes. As the chemistry teacher I began to clean the glass fronted chemical storage cabinets. There were mysterious powders, and bottles of liquids of unknown purpose with labels long gone.
As the 12th grade Civics teacher I became senior class advisor. No big deal, right? However, I soon learned that after graduation the graduating class takes an annual school bus trip to Washington, D.C and I would be the chaperon in charge. More on the job training. Other chaperons were the bus driver/mechanic Lyle Fisher and his wife Mae and another teacher (female). Lyle and Mae had taken the trip in previous years which relieved me of much anxiety. The students had saved, in the class treasury, from kindergarten for this trip. Housing during the trip was to be school district supplied tents which were packed in the rear of the bus. I was informed, by the superintendent, that the girls should wear dresses on the trip. The father, of one class member, privately informed me that his daughter, had but one dress. In preparation for the trip I informed the girls that they must wear dresses “on the day we left town.” (From then they wore slacks.) Thanks to great chaperons and cooperative students we had a ball and all went well. We never used the tents. We slept in motels paid for from the class funds.
The annual community potluck athletic banquet was also the responsibility of the coach. The dinner went well except one table, loaded with food, tipped when people sat on the bench type seat attached to one side of the table. The families set up again and we went about our business. The number attending exceeded our expectations, however, there is never a shortage of good food at a farmland potluck.
In the middle of this first year I was named school principal. No specifics were given; but it seemed to be for all grades. The reason for the appointment was that someone had to be in charge during the absence of the superintendent. There was no change in any other assignments or salary. I was now “Principal”, “Teacher”, “Coach”, “Senior Class Sponsor”. My office was a former cloak room 8’ x 8’ with all the coat hooks still on three walls. The room would do as I was seldom there.
As principal I assumed student attendance was one of my responsibilities. For example, there were two brothers with a single parent father. One morning one of the boys told me his brother was still in bed. Knowing the father was at work out of town I went to their apartment: threw the covers off the sleeping brother, got him dressed, and off to school we went. Try that today. On another occasion a young man was not in school. His mother told me he had told her there was no school and he went fishing. I went to the pond, stopped the fishing, and marched him to school. I love this scene because a teacher, who saw us, said, “Tom Sawyer, if I ever saw it. The boy in coveralls and the principal in a suit and tie marching single file back to school from the fishing hole.”
Near the end of that first year I learned that annually the seniors took a “Skip” day. In the absence of any outside advice I made my first administrative decision. I informed the senior class of 22 members, that they could be excused from school for their skip day (cheers), however, there was one stipulation. I would “skip” with them (no cheers) and it would be a planned day. We went on an all-day trip in four automobiles, first we went via the bridge to Canada and back via the Detroit/Windsor Tunnel. We visited Metro Airport, went to dinner, then back home. Only negative, one busted headlight. The “ was a great success. Eleventh graders asked if they could do it next year. Some of these students had never been far from home and to visit Canada was to go to a foreign country.
Somehow, I became the announcer for the annual school/community Christmas program. The parents always love the performance of their children which made the announcer look good also. At one Christmas time, while I was at the Church Christmas service someone had tied a live, old, toothless sheep in my life sized lighted manger scene. (Joyce was home ill but was sworn to secrecy). It turned out to be the Board of Education President (Robert Wiles) and Secretary (Lee McLaughlin) I got $9 for the ewe and Lee did not charge me for hauling it to Detroit to the stockyard. There is a follow up to that story. Several weeks later I kept an appointment with a medical doctor in Gaines, a neighboring village, as I entered the doctor’s office and gave my name he said, “Oh! You’re the sheep man.”
Not only did I have many opportunities to fish in the local Mill Pond, in a borrowed row boat, but I also learned a great deal those first few years: thanks to the superintendent who found plenty for me to do; the students and community adults who made my years there mostly fun, and the staff members who could not have been more helpful in this farming country surrounding the little town of Byron, Michigan.
P.S. Having lost many more games than we won I was soon replaced as coach. Eventually I was relieved of some of my other responsibilities. During my last two years in Byron I was promoted to Superintendent of Schools (final salary $6,000). With the help of an excellent “school law” attorney, and a dedicated Board of Education, we annexed two and one half primary school districts (closed one room schools). Soon thereafter the Byron Agricultural School District built a new elementary school, a gymnasium, and a new modern football field. During the years in Byron, Joyce gave birth to our daughter (Colleen) and son (Brian). Joyce was always my support and a wonderful mother and homemaker.
It is possible I acquired more practical knowledge in Byron than I had in four years of formal college class work. The old three story (basement plus two) brick school building is gone now and the district has grown in size and added several modern school buildings. I wonder if the community is having as much fun and as few heartaches as we had during the seven years the Pankow family was in town.