Bluffton, Indiana, was nicknamed “The Parlor City” over a century ago because its paved streets (a new phenomenon at the time) made the city “as clean as your parlor."
You grew up in Bluffton, but didn't you attend Jenera Lutheran for the early part of your education? When did you start attending Bluffton schools?
I attended Trinity Lutheran School in Jenera for grades 4-8. I attended Bluffton K-4 and then 9-12.
How did you get to school in Jenera? How many others from Bluffton attended school there?
There were several of us from Bluffton and the surrounding area that attended Trinity Lutheran School -- us, the Matter's, Burkholder's, and Heldman's. Bluffton was part of the Trinity Lutheran School bus route that went through Bluffton and the rural area between Bluffton and Mount Cory.
Did you have various sets of friends -- the Bluffton friends and Jenera friends? How did that work out?
Yes I did. I played a lot of sports growing up in Bluffton which kept me connected with my friends in Bluffton. I also had many good friends not only from Jenera but also from Arlington, Mount Cory, and Rawson that attended Trinity Lutheran School. It worked out very well. Many times in summer baseball and midget football, Bluffton would play Cory-Rawson and Arlington and I would be competing against my Jenera classmates. Playing against my friends made me even more competitive than I already was. I can remember in high school playing football, basketball, and baseball against Bob Inniger and Tyler Smith from Arlington. We would always pick up our game when we played against each other so Sunday mornings we would have bragging rights. In high school during football season my teammates would be talking about the big rivalry game against Ada, but for me and Bruce Matter the big game was the Cory-Rawson game!
Share some of your memories from growing up.
Growing up, we were always outside doing something with friends and neighborhood kids. Whether it was playing sports, camping out in the backyard, or stomping around the Riley creek down by the stone quarry, we always seemed to keep busy. In the summer we would catch minnows and crayfish from the Riley creek to use for fishing, or be building a fort in the woods behind us to hang out in. In the winter we would go sledding on the big hill at the end of Geiger Street, or go ice skating on the Riley until we couldn't feel our toes anymore.
We used to play sports all the time. The guys that I remember playing sports with were my brother Tim, cousin Brian McCune, Bruce Matter, Tom Falk, Tony and Larry Carmack, and Roger Schmutz. I can remember playing basketball and tennis at the current Harmon Field tennis courts. There used to be two basketball courts and two tennis courts. We would play tennis for hours and then get in a pickup game of basketball and play until it was dark. We also used to play a lot of tennis at the college on the clay courts that are no longer there.
My cousin, Brian McCune, had a huge back yard so played baseball there a lot. Uncle George McCune would come out and hit us fly balls so we could play dollars and cents. He could hit the ball a mile high! During the summer our basketball camps were at the swimming pool where everyone would go and play a game of pickup basketball. When we got hot and tired we would go swimming and then come back out and play more basketball. Evenings we would have baseball practice or a game.
I remember doing a lot of fishing when I was younger. My dad would take us fishing at the National Quarry, Buckeye, or more often to our favorite spot, the Waterworks Quarry. The Waterworks Quarry was located at the present day high school soccer field. Boy, that was a great place to fish! We would catch bass, walleye, bluegill, and catfish there.
Bluffton was very active when I was growing up. I can remember when Bluffton hosted the Firemen's Convention. That was a pretty wild time. I remember the old Mountaineers Day festivities and parade, the car show held at Harmon field, the old steam show, and finally the annual trout derby put on by the Sportsmen's Club.
During the 1974 derby, I was fishing with my family in our usual spot, right across from the shelter house. Halfway through the derby I suddenly got a hit on my daredevil lure. I reeled the fish in to see that it was a trout. As my dad helped me net the trout and get it on the bank, we noticed it had a tag on its mouth. I asked dad what number it was and I thought he was going to have a heart attack right then and there! It was tag number one! Dad was really nervous as we walked over to the shelter house to turn it in! From then on I had my high school nickname of "Big Arb," after the number one fish named for Arden Baker.
Bluffton was and still is a wonderful place to grow up.
Was science always a favorite subject? What type of science did you enjoy the most? Any experiments that got out of hand?
I did like science in school. I liked learning about different things and how they interact and learning how things work. I also liked math a lot and I really enjoyed history, specifically American history. I liked environmental science probably the best because Gary Brown would always take us out for walks to look and all the different types of trees and plants. I really didn't like biology because of when we had to dissect various things. Not my cup of tea. I don't remember any experiments that really got out of hand. We had the occasional experiment where Mr Brown would do something with sulfur and stink up the entire bottom floor. After class he would go out in the hallway and watch all of the students holding their noses and let out his famous laugh!
What did you do after graduating from high school?
After high school, I worked for Carroll Cramer Construction for a couple of years building houses. He had a pretty big crew at that time, Dave Cramer, Greg Amstutz, Terry McKibben, Brian McCune, Dave Hoffer, and several others. We would do it all -- plumbing, electrical, concrete work, anything that dealt with building or remodeling a house. The things I learned working for Carroll those two years were very instrumental for me. Not only for my eventual career in maintenance but it also allowed me to do most of my own building and repair work at home. I greatly admired Carroll and the patience he had with us young kids.
After working for Carroll I went to Lima Technical College (Rhodes State College now) and received my Associates Degree in Electronic Engineering. That opened up the door for my next job as an Electro-Mechanical Equipment Specialist at RCA Corporation in Findlay. I worked in the maintenance department at RCA for 21 years. At RCA we made semiconductors, which is a very interesting field because of the sophisticated technologies and processes I was involved with. Ironically it is also one of the topics I now teach my 8th graders in science class!
When did you decide to return to school to become a teacher? Where did you complete your teacher training?
I used to joke around with the guys at Intersil (RCA was bought out by GE who then sold the semiconductor sector to Harris Corporation which then sold it to Intersil Corporation) that I had so much seniority the only way I could get laid off was for the company to close the doors. Well, they closed the doors! In 2002 Intersil announced to the Findlay plant they were transferring the business to the corporate office in Florida. At the time Intersil announced they were transferring everything to Florida, they told us that because of the complexity of the semiconductor process it would take 18 months to get everything transferred.
During that time we had time to decide what we were going to do. Naturally that was generally the topic of many conversations at the plant. In many of these conversations I was involved with, time after time people suggested that I should be a teacher because I loved kids and liked being around them, as I had coached many of my kid's athletic teams. I would look at these people like they were crazy! I never really thought of being a teacher. I never really considered being a teacher, especially after I looked at how much money, or little, teachers made compared to what I was making at the time.
One day I had a conversation with a good friend at work.. He brought up the teacher conversation again. He said being a teacher is a very noble job. It's the type of job where you can make a difference in a child's life. After my conversation with him I started looking at the teaching possibility with a different mindset. I decided life isn't all about money. From that point on I gave it a lot of thought, and finally after a lot of soul searching I made my decision to become a teacher. I was very nervous about this decision, not only from the point of whether or not we could afford having me be on a teacher's salary, but also from the point of was there a market out there for a 40-year- old teacher coming into the workforce? Would anyone want to hire me at my age?
While still working at Intersil I enrolled at The University of Findlay, and started by taking one class. I was scared to death to go back to school! It had been 20 years since I had last taken a college class and I wasn't sure if I could do it. Well, I got an "A" in that first class and gained a lot of confidence. From then on I never took less than four classes at a time, and several times I took six and sometimes eight classes in a semester. I had a new job now and that was being a student. Three and a half years later I graduated from Findlay University with a bachelor's degree in middle childhood education. I was very proud of that moment because I had never dreamed I would ever go back and get a bachelor's degree. Something else I am very proud of is the fact that after I earned that "A" in my first college class in 20 years, I proceeded to earn an "A" in every class I took after that. I worked extremely hard to maintain my 4.0 GPA and graduated with honors.
Four years later I completed something else I never ever thought I would get when I was growing up. I received my master's degree in education administration from the University of Findlay.
Who were your most inspirational teachers when in school?
Bill Herr taught me that patience is a wonderful thing. Also he always looked for the good points in people. Mr. Herr was a very patient man and always found the good points in a person. I learned from Gary Brown that it is important to have fun while you teach. If you try and make learning interesting and fun it will stay your students much longer than if you are boring them to death.
Tell me about your classroom unit in which your students researched and then made a musical instrument. How did they decide what they wanted to make? What were some of the instruments they made? What did you hope they would learn from this project?
The musical instrument project is a project the kids have fun with. Students have to come up with an idea of some type of instrument they want to build. They have to research the history of the instrument and also figure out how it works. Students are required to do a PowerPoint presentation to the class explaining the history of the instrument and also explain how the instrument changes pitch and volume. After the PowerPoint presentation the student does another presentation with their instrument that is videotaped as they explain how they built it, tested it, and modified their instrument in order to make their instrument sound as good as possible. Finally they must play a song on their instrument. Singing and dancing gets them bonus points!
I tell the kids to look around the house, basement and garage to find materials that could be used for their instrument. They are allowed to buy items for their project, but I warn them that I don't want to get a parent phone call asking why their son or daughter needs to buy $200 worth of materials for their project! The idea is to be creative and use materials they already have.
A sample of some of the instruments students bring in are guitars, xylophones, and flutes. The time and detail that many of my students put into their projects is awesome! The goal for the project is for the kids to learn about how sound is produced and then use that knowledge to develop an instrument. However many students go above and beyond with the hope of their instrument will end up on the "Wall of Fame"! The first year I started teaching I took a handful of the instruments I felt the students went above and beyond on, and hung them up on my back wall and called it the wall of fame. Ever since then the quality and creativity of the instruments has improved. If a student's instrument qualifies for the wall of fame i have them sign it before I put it up so everyone knows who it belongs to. It's a pride thing and allows students to take pride in their project. Hopefully this same pride in making their instrument will carry on to how they will work when they get out in the real world and have to get a job.
Some unusual instruments through the years has been an electric guitar, a Hank Drum (made from a propane tank), a perfectly tuned piano, drum sets, washtub basses, and many more. It's been a very interesting and rewarding unit we do each year.
So, aside from teaching science, how do you spend your time? Any hobbies? How do you spend your summers?
My wife and I enjoy watching my boys play sports, which keeps us quite busy as both of them play three sports. Summers are very busy. I spend a lot of time maintaining our yard and flower beds and doing different projects in my shop. Occasionally I get a chance to playing a round of golf or two. The boys and I will occasionally take off on a vacation. Sometimes it's a one day trip but we have done some longer ones. A couple of years ago we took off for 21 days and put over 7,000 miles on our van. We headed west and went through the Dakotas out through Yellowstone, visited my daughter Kristie and her family in Idaho, then to Washington to visit my son Adam and my daughter Angie and her family. We then headed south through Oregon and California, where we visited my niece, and then came back up through Utah and Colorado on our way home. We had a great time and the boys saw a lot of our country!
Tell me about your family.
I am married to my wonderful wife, Cheri. I have five children, three boys and two girls.
Kristie and her husband, Chris, havetwo girls. They recently moved from Tampa, Florida to Boise, Idaho. In Tampa, Kristie was a 6th grade science teacher.
Angie and her husband, Charlie, live in Naples, Florida with their three boys. Angie is a high school math teacher.
Adam lives in Seattle, Washington,where he is studying computer graphics. Josh and Jason live at home with us. Josh is a sophomore and Jason is a 7th grader.
What's on your bucket list of things to do, say, some day after you retire from teaching?
I would like to do some traveling. I would like to spend some more time with my grandkids as they are spread out all over the country. I would love to go to Europe and possibly Australia. I also would like to travel around the United States by getting away from the main highways and see the small towns around the country. Maybe drive the Route 66 highway system. Also I would like to go to Hawaii someday and see if it is as nice as what people claim it to be.