Over the years, I have written about several teachers who had clear impacts on how I learned and what I came to be as a man. (Assuming they would be willing to be associated with that) Today, while checking out at the local grocery store, I was gazing over the tabloids/magazines and I spied the October 2016 edition of Reader’s Digest.
I immediately thought of Bernie Freeman. I then added the issue to my purchase.
Bernie was my seventh grade English teacher. If my memory is correct, it was 1972-1973, the first year the Warren Twp Middle School was open. I was not a very popular kid. I was tall, skinny, uncoordinated and always the last kid picked for sports teams. On top of that, my dad was the police chief in town, so I wasn’t considered cool. I made up for that deficit by being a voracious reader. No regrets and no hard feelings.
Mr. Freeman was a collector of Reader’s Digest Books and I suppose there were over a hundred of them on the shelves in his classroom. Bernie nutured my love of reading, a short-lived interest in Latin and also coached me to winning the local and regional, Optimist Oratorical Contest. I recall the theme that year was “Listen World.”
Bernie was one of the teachers I stayed in contact with until the time of his death in 2003. Bernie, Ann Humphrey and myself would get together for lunch 2-3 times a year during most of the 1990’s, before I moved out of the area. It was my way of saying Thank you. When we bought our funeral home in 1999, it came with a small library full of Reader’s Digest, Condensed Books. Another reminder.
A few years ago, while home visiting my parents, dad and I took a trip to St. Mary’s Cemetery in Plainfield, NJ. We found Bernie’s grave and took a photo of his headstone, which hung in my office in Aiken for several years. It was a daily reminder of the importance of reading. . . and how a humble man can make a big impact.
May his memory be eternal and from perusing the issue, I’m confidant that you will find some material within these pages in the near future.