Often we think about high school and wonder where's a certain person and what they're doing now. It's so easy to check on peers with social media that traveling back home for a class reunion isn't necessary. You can get most of your needs met on Zoom-like interactions, but face-to-face interactions provide an extra element of connection. If you could add teachers among the attendees of your reunion, who would it be? For me, it would be my English teacher, Chuck Herber.
I called him the other day. In case you think I’m joking, I’m not. Who would pick up the phone and dial up an old teacher? A student who is profoundly touched by the teacher who connects with students in extraordinary ways.
Mr. Herber touched my heart and my mind, as well as those of countless students he’s taught before and since I was in his class. I had the unique pleasure of being his student more than once: Senior Composition and British Literature.
I didn’t think he would actually answer the phone, but he did, in the middle of teaching class no less. I suppose he doesn't get many phone calls at school. Either that or something told him to pick up the phone. We didn't get long to connect. He was teaching class, after all, but those minutes were precious.
Before calling, I did a little research to see if he was still alive and what he’s been up to since we last connected. He used to receive a Christmas card every year, but he moved and the last one I sent to him at the high school was returned.
Generally, I can get his address from mom who used to go to the same church as he did, but he moved and mom died earlier this year, so I have no good point of connection.
I searched first to see if there was an obituary with his name and found that he had been teaching for more than 56 years and 36 years in English. I found him on the high school website, and his phone number was included with his picture, so I dialed the number and followed the prompts.
To my surprise, he answered the phone. I knew his voice immediately, “I didn’t think you’d actually answer.”
“Who is this?”
“This is Nicole,” I knew he was unlikely to know my married name so I added, “This is Nitelight.”
No question he’ll know who I am. Nitelight was his nickname for me when I dated one of his older students. I was a sophomore; he was a senior, thus the origin of the nickname. Something about robbing the cradle and leaving the nitelight on. The nickname stuck.
In Composition, we had to make a container to hold the written portion of a presentation we made to the class. I made a nitelight. I'm not sure if I was going for extra points or brownie points, but I'm fairly certain I earned both.
Before I graduated, I penned a poem by the same title with him in mind and gave it to him. Every Christmas card I signed had Nitelight next to my name.
We only talked for about 5 minutes, and in those minutes, we remembered important people in each other’s lives, and the years melted away instantly. I asked for his address so that I could send a Christmas card this year. I don’t send Christmas cards anymore. Electronic versions are easier, but I’ll get a special one for him.
I knew Mr. Herber kept himself in good shape and was a runner, but I didn’t realize he accepts physical challenges from students. At age 74, Herber can outperform a football player when it comes to doing finger push-ups.
Notice he didn’t even loosen his tie. The man is a machine.
Principal Mark Preston tweets that Herber is old enough to be the student’s great-grandfather.
Herber is a living legend. There are few teachers of his caliber. A couple have come pretty close, like Janet DiSilvestro my fourth-grade Creative Writing teacher, and Deidre Hall of World and American Experience classes, but I don’t know where she is today.
Throughout college, I’d add Patrick Harper, Jennifer Drake, Rosemary Nudd, Richard Landini, Leslie Barratt, and Matthew Brennan. Then there was Dr. Derrick, and Dr. Sauer — our connections were more formal. And Harriett Hudson was someone most students hated, but I found her endearing.
Interesting that they are all English teachers, and I graduated with an English degree myself. When you can connect with people in a way few can, it’s worth keeping those connections alive.
Who’s in your life that’s worth checking up on and perhaps reconnecting with? Recently someone challenged me to reach out to people whose relationships may otherwise slip away. I’ve been asking myself, who made such an impact that is worth reaching out to? Chuck Herber came to mind.
Consider the people you have made meaningful connections with in life. This person doesn’t have to be a teacher. Perhaps a mentor, a coach, or someone who saw you through a difficult time holds a special place in your memory.
Should you choose to accept it, your challenge is to tell a story about someone who is legendary to you.
Who has made a difference in your life? Tell us about that person.
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