Paid Dividends

“I felt, Wow, this is scary because I want to be in there with him…and Can I do that? Am I capable of that?

Produced by Rich Elliott with interviews recorded by StoryCorps, a national nonprofit whose mission is to provide Americans of all backgrounds and beliefs with the opportunity to record, share, and preserve the stories of our lives:

Transcript for Paid Dividends

I think at one point I probably knew everybody in Kouts back when it was a really closer-knit town. My neighborhood was a small home on Main Street where I mixed with the rest of the kids on the sidewalk every day, and you walk to the grocery store, you walk to the post office, and you walk to the restaurant. And it was just a small town, less than 2000, and when I was a kid growing up—that would have been back in the late ‘40s and the ‘50s and up into the early ‘60s. I remember doing a few things like peeling a soap bar to put in the washing machine because I don’t think we had the automatic liquid soap and stuff like that.

Tell me again the year that you came to our neighborhood.

After finishing at Valparaiso University, I came here as a social studies teacher, and that was in 1957, and in 1967, I became principal.

It was wonderful to have a young man come in and teach us kids, so to speak, that were not much different in age. And you would see him at all the sports activities, everything that’s going on. I mean, Mr. Rommelmann really, I think, made an impression. I didn’t appreciate much of the schoolhouse atmosphere. I would rather be, you know, running around trying to find cigarette butts or pop or something in that respect. I didn’t really pay a lot of attention to what was going on in the classroom.

I can say I probably didn’t have a totally great atmosphere at home as far as getting proper raised up, you know, so to speak. And I would work for some farmers in the area to get money and tried the Cub Scouts, and that didn’t work too much because there you had to be disciplined. I remember spending a lot of time running around the streets, hanging out with possibly, maybe a crowd I shouldn’t have.

I had noticed, for instance, at cross country meets, you weren’t running, but you were helping, and it was just another chance, because we knew you were running the streets.

He said, “Why don’t you come into this facility and help us do some work in the office that needs to be done” and be a part of the other, the other lifestyle, so to speak. And I was shocked at that, and I felt, Wow, this is scary because I want to be in there with him—other teachers and the principal, and the principal’s wife, and now you got to stand up and behave, and Can I do that? Am I capable of that? But what a total surprise that was to be asked to be part of that crew for a while.

I appreciate what you said, Joe. But that’s the purpose of going into education—you think you can affect some lives. And it’s always reassuring when you see that some of the efforts have paid dividends. And you’ve certainly paid dividends. This is a self-made man, and I admire what you have done with your life.

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