A thank you to Mr. Walker

Published 6:46 pm Thursday, December 27, 2007

By Staff
To the editor:
Leland S. Walker was my Niles High School mathematics teacher from 1944 to 1947. He also was the acting principal when Walter Zabel was absent, and he did the extra curricular circuit with the students, i.e. student government, etc. My recollection of him other than our personal involvement is he was always busily engaged and dedicated to Niles High School and the student body. He was a primary faculty representative.
He was an academician; graduate of Kalamazoo College, MA from Notre Dame, and did graduate work at the University of Illinois. He was proactive in any activities that would affect the school. An example was when my father attempted to organize the teachers to form a union in the 1940s. Mr. Walker opposed the idea, and won.
My assessment of Mr. Walker is that he was one of those teachers, as most are, who was on a mission and believed teachers should be dedicated public servants who take a selfless approach to teaching and guiding children. He was such a teacher and more. He knew his students and challenged them to do their very best. Remember, during my high school years we didn't have guidance counselors on school staffs. Mr. Walker was my mentor and to others by his choosing, and to me a trusted counselor.
I believe I was a typical teenage challenge, and they tell me I had a sharp mind. Mr. Walker tested me in freshman algebra and found me deficient. Incidentally, I also didn't make the grade in Miss Talbot's Latin class. Mr. Walker didn't give up on me. For starters, he insisted I take both algebra and geometry my sophomore year. He also guided me to major in science and take all the remaining math subjects available, including extra work in advanced mathematical concepts he taught me using a Naval Academy text. I still remember doing logarithms and learning how to use a slide rule. Today's engineers have computers. My goal was to go to the University of Michigan and become a Mechanical Engineer.
He also worked on my leadership and sense of responsibility. When there was a scheduling conflict with his classes because he was required to assume the principal's position or other school responsibilities, he charged me to monitor his mathematics classes. I did not have a problem conducting the classes because I had watched and learned from an outstanding teacher. Simply put, he would clearly explain in a logical step-by-step approach how to solve the problem. He did have a no nonsense manner, yet caring and understanding way to keep the student's attention and encourage maximum effort, which I am sure at that time I could not emulate. He was a character builder.
At one point Mr. Walker mentioned the U.S. Naval Academy to me, planting the seed for my future. These were the years at the end of WWII. The military services and those who fought for our freedom were respected and still very much in our thoughts. I took note but went to Albion College, a school to which I could not have gained admission without having gone down the path that Mr. Walker had directed. He had made sure I was prepared to succeed in acquiring an advanced education.
Well, from hereon the story is of my life. A very fulfilling life I never would have experienced without Leland S. Walker. I wish I could shake his hand today and thank him personally. He may be watching all his students for all we know. If so, he knows I did graduate from an academy, West Point and I did go on to get an MA in Political Science from Western Michigan University. These were academic achievements for which he prepared me and which stood me in good stead to have a successful career.
Thank you Mr. Walker. Though you were the primary force in directing me down the right path, I am sure you would want me to recognize the contributions of all your teaching associates who also helped me. To mention a few because my memory fades; Mr. Bacon, Mr. Mathews, Ms. Kidder, Mr. DeWitt, Mr. Rasmussen, Coach Whitwam, Mr. Marks, Ms. Getz, and Dr.&Mrs. Payne. To those not mentioned, I apologize. Names have been the first thing to escape my brain with this geriatric thing called: A.G.E.
Finally, I am sure Mr. Walker would agree that a general thank you to all our teachers is in order. And as the new school year starts, our recognition of a special group of people and their profession, our teachers past and present, is the right thing to do. My English teachers (Ms. Kidder for one) would agree with the point just made, but shoot me for the structure of that last sentence. Yes, thanks to Leland S. Walker and all our teachers.