Teachers at Hale High School taught with style and humor

A few weeks ago, I wrote about some of the great teachers I had a Alexander Graham Bell Junior High School (now Bell Elementary).

I had some pretty special teachers at Nathan Hale High School, too.

Bill Kirwin was my drivers’ ed teacher. We were all so nervous about learning to drive but he had a knack for making us feel confident. He was a funny guy.

Jim Smith, who later became head football coach, was a mean-looking gym teacher who was determined to turn boys into men.

Sue Sellnick taught geometry. I took her class as a sophomore and one of my brothers accidentally took the same class (he was a senior). On the first day, when he found out I was in his class, he transferred out.

Morris Medearis taught chemistry – not my favorite subject. He was black and had switched to Hale from Booker T. Washington High School, an historically black school. I admired how well he fit in and I learned a lot from him.

Our principal was H.J. Green, who switched positions with the Washington principal the year after I graduated. He was an affable guy that everyone liked. When I walked across the stage to graduate, he said, “Well, Charley, you old horse, you made it.”

Jerry Billings was assistant principal. He had a reputation for being tough, a stern disciplinarian. I never had a problem with him. Thirty years later, I ran into him and I realized he is a nice guy who just wanted to help kids grow into maturity.

Nancy Brazier was one of my Spanish teachers. She was young and she had a great understanding of what high school students were dealing with. I got straight As in her class.

O.A. Smith was my other Spanish teacher (I took three years of Spanish at Hale). He was a quiet man and many mistook that for weakness. He was extremely intelligent and he taught because he loved to teach.

I learned so much vocabulary and sentence structure in those Spanish classes. It has really helped me in my chosen field, perhaps more than even the English courses I took.

Jackie Campbell was my favorite teacher in high school. She taught English. Mrs. Campbell would ask for volunteers to read portions of a book during a literature section and I (and David Belding) would always seem to volunteer. After reading for a few minutes, I would slide into an accent (British, hillbilly, etc.) and Mrs. Campbell would let me go with a slight grin on her face.

Reading in front of an audience is a great exercise and she made it fun.

She “hired” me as a school service aide my senior year and one of my jobs was to type her vocabulary tests. Sometimes I would change the questions and add some goofy comment. She left those in tests (sometimes).

I got a B in school service because she could never find me when she needed something done. I left early for lunch many times and that was the only thing she every scolded me for.

In 2000, when my wife Susan was a contestant on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?, we called Mrs. Campbell and she agreed to be a lifeline. She was a wonderful person and a suburb teacher. I don’t think I would have entered a career in journalism without her encouragement.

Credit needs to go to Barbara Brewer, the journalism teacher at Hale. She encouraged me to write a column not only for the Hale newspaper but for a district wide student newspaper. She had a great influence on many future writers.

Laurine Hager was our speech teacher at Hale High School and she was great. Nearing retirement, her classes were loaded with creativity. She would ask students to go up on stage and do improve. Me and some of my cohorts jumped at the opportunity.

Mrs. Hager was the driving force behind some great theater productions. During my senior year, she cast me in two roles – Sir Oliver Martext and Charles the Wrestler – in our production of Shakespeare’s As You Like It. Each year, the Speech Department would do a Shakespearian play, complete with rented costumes from New York and questionable English accents.

She also directed our senior production of the musical, The King and I. I played the prime minister. Walker and Diana (Lawyer) Hanson, the parents of the singing group Hanson, played the lead roles. They both had great singing voices and at that time, they were madly in love. Walker shaved his head for the role (like Yul Brenner) but I think it grew back.

Mrs. Hager was so patient with us and she taught us so much about stage presence and confidence.

Being a student at Nathan Hale High School was a marvelous experience. I still keep in touch with some fellow students and I am looking forward to our 45th reunion (wow) next summer.

Maybe we can get Hanson to sing a few tunes from The King and I…