Friday, August 3, 2012

Buzzy's Mom

This afternoon at 5:30 PM, at the Pheasant Run Resort in St. Charles, IL (near Chicago) it will be my privilege to unite Jim "Buz" Salyer and Debby Thomas in marriage. That's Buzzy and his mother, Anna Lee Salyer pictured here to the left.

I've known Buzzy since about 1957 or so. His family lived on Midvale Drive, up the hill from the house where I grew up on Gallaher Street. He was one year younger than me, and trailed me by one school year all the way through Gallaher Elementary, Beverly Hills Junior High, and Huntington East High School. We were't close friends through school, but mostly just a couple of guys who grew up in the same neighborhood, and had a number of mutual friends. After I graduated in 1968 I lost track of Buz for a decade.

Our paths crossed again in the late 70's as Providence brought us to the same employer at an automobile dealership in Ashland, KY. From that point on, a close friendship developed that has lasted for three and a half decades. After our time together at Steenbergen Oldsmobile, his work in banking and finance eventually led him to the Chicago area, and I opened an insurance agency in Ashland. I continued to work in Bi-vocational ministry as a business man and a pastor until called to the full time pastorate in 2012.

Buz and his late wife, Amy, who also grew up in our old neighborhood, were not only my insurance clients while they lived in Kentucky, but were great friends to Linda and I. They were also great benefactors of our Philippine Mission work and the ministry of Westmoreland Baptist Church. There was a genuine love between our families - even though we were eventually separated by many miles and different career paths.

What a joy it was last night to meet Debby who will now share her life with my old friend, and to be reunited at the rehearsal and dinner with Buz and his family. His twin son and daughter Jamie and Jacqui and their children are a precious family. It was great to see Buzzy's younger sister, Jennifer and meet her husband as well. However, one of the best treats of the evening was to be able to spend some quality time with Buzzy's mother, Anna Lee Salyer.

During the 1967-1968 school year, Mrs. Salyer (that is all I will ever be able to call her) was my Senior English teacher at Huntington East High School. I had not seen Mrs. Salyer since that hot night in early June, 1968 at my graduation ceremony at Veterans Memorial Field House in Huntington. All that was on my mind that evening was celebration, a date with my girl friend, and an upcoming trip out of town with one of my buddies. In hindsight, I wish I had taken time to seek out Mrs. Salyer and one other particular teacher that evening just to tell them "Thanks". However, as teenagers are wont to do, I failed to take that opportunity. Last night, forty four years later, I had the opportunity again, and seized the moment.

By my best count, in my twelve years as a student in Cabell County public schools, I had upwards of 50 teachers. Two of them were bad - really, really bad (that's all I'll say about that). One tried hard, but was outside of his calling. Most of them were excellent professionals, from whom I learned a great deal. Seven of them helped change my life.

Buzzy's mom was one of the "Magnificent Seven".

Mrs. Donaldson, a dear Christian lady, started it off right in first grade. Beside teaching us "Jolly Numbers" and reading with the adventures of Dick, Jane, and Sally ("See Spot. See Spot run. Run Spot. Run!") Mrs. Donaldson actually interspersed our secular lessons with Christian values. The first song I ever learned in school was "Tell Me The Story of Jesus". Imagine that!

Gertrude Stone, my fifth grade teacher, challenged me to work hard and never settle for mediocrity. That challenge lay dormant for two years in High School, but the seeds Mrs. Stone planted eventually bore fruit. Susie Jimison taught us music and life lessons. She dared us to be different and inspired us to think for ourselves and not to just follow the crowd.

In Junior High Miss Harold stoked my interests in learning about the world around me. Her passion for Geography and World History fanned the flame that Mrs. Stone had ignited in me during the fifth grade. Linda Giles' 9th grade English class deepened my love for literature and poetry, and infected me with the joy and satisfaction that comes from creative writing.

My first two years of High School were unremarkable to say the least. I coasted. I declined. My school work was average, at best, and poor on occasion. I had feelings of inferiority and began to doubt my self worth. Then came my senior year with Catherine Cummings' Speech class and Anna Salyer's English. These two ladies were a godsend to me.

Mrs. Cummings brought me out of my funk and out of my shell. She inspired me to think creatively and to communicate. Over the years, I had "locked up" when forced to get up in front of the class and and speak. Whether it was "Show and Tell" in grade school, or oral book reports in Jr. High, the fear of public speaking was debilitating. Mrs. Cummings forced me to abandon my fear of speaking before a crowd. She helped us understand that we each did have something of value to say, and coached us as to how to say it.

That all kind of comes in handy for what I do today!

Mrs. Salyer embodied all of the above qualities. She was a consummate teacher. She loved her students and it showed. She wasn't "easy" quite thee contrary, but she made learning fun. She was passionate about literature and it was infectious. She even made grammar lessons interesting. I may not have completely mastered its finest points (as evidenced my writings even today) but I understood it much better due to her efforts. She not only taught us English, but she taught us lessons in life. Her class was the best hour of the day, and I looked forward to it each school day.

Most of all, I think Mrs. Salyer saw potential in each of her students. She was tough when necessary, and compassionate at all times. She told me last night about a boy (whom I remember well) who was thrown out of his original English class. The former teacher said she would not allow him back in her class, and Mrs. Salyer was asked to take on this "problem student". She agreed, and it didn't take long for her to see that this guy was gifted in writing. His spelling was atrocious, and all the other teacher had done was mark up his papers for spelling until it looked like a chicken had bled to death on the page. Mrs. Salyer told me, "I read his work, and it was outstanding. He just couldn't spell." The previous teacher had no patience with him, and had constantly berated him over his poor spelling. "Apparently she had never taken time to read what he had written" Mrs. Salyer said. "I began to work with him on his spelling. Soon he was carrying a dictionary with him on a regular basis. His spelling improved and his work was excellent." She further said that she had lost touch with the young man after high school, but happened across his mother many years later. When asked about where her son was and what he was doing, the mother related that he was now a college English professor!

That is the kind of story that makes it all worthwhile for a teacher.

The common traits of my "top seven" - and other great teachers - are a genuine love for their profession and for the many and varied lives they touch. They often answer questions with another question. They challenge the student to think! They challenge the student to look inside themselves, and to work hard to reach their potential. They help mold and change lives.

Buzzy's mom was one of the best.

I'm sorry it took so long to be able to tell her face to face, but I am so glad I had that opportunity last night.

Thanks Mrs. Salyer! You are loved and appreciated.

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