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Epistle for Mr. McGreen

Have you ever wished you’d said “thank you” but never did?  For me, it wasn’t too late.  This essay was adapted from a letter* sent to my favorite teacher.  I just learned Mr. Wally McGreen passed away on March 19, 2022 at age 83, so share this essay as my parting tribute. 

Dear Mr. McGreen:  It’s a funny thing about life.  It takes time to realize how thankful one should be.  And, so it is with me as this letter is long overdue.  I’ve thought about writing it over the years but always found more pressing needs to consume the moment.  Today seemed perfect: St. Patrick’s Day, snowing, my children off to events, with an unengaged afternoon.

It was a very long time ago, September 1962.  I left the K–3 world of Byron Kibler elementary and began a fresh journey at a new destination, J.J. Smith.  I was one of the fortunate 4th graders to experience our first male teacher, a young man fresh out of college named Mr. McGreen. The other five classes were taught by women, as had been every teacher at Kibler.  Plus, my new best friend, Jeff Eldridge was by my side.  Surprisingly, this new teacher lived on my street in a boarding house of sorts, just a stone’s throw from our home.

Fresh out of college and a newly minted elementary teacher, Mr. McGreen, made a mark on our 4th Grade class at J.J. Smith, Spring 1963.

That fall Mr. McGreen organized the boys of our class into a football team.  Sorry girls, you were stuck playing four-square or jumping rope.  He drilled us daily through simple plays at recess.  Over and over we practiced those few calls.  Mr. McGreen entrusted me with the role of quarterback and Tim Thomasson as halfback.  Most plays were similar––I took the snap and handed the ball to Tim while linemen pulled left or right.  Mr. McGreen then scheduled a series of football games between ours and the other 4th grade classes. Though we lacked the pure talent of other teams, our tightly choreographed snaps and daily drilling resulted in clockwork plays. We crushed every opponent in that ad hoc 4th grade league.

One day, Mr. McGreen invited me to stay after school.  He pulled out a deck of cards and taught me to play cribbage.  It was a great game for improving arithmetic skills and understanding odds.  For weeks we’d play most days after school.  Soon I was good enough to play with my grandpa who also loved the game.  Decades later I taught my own children just as he’d taught me.

The annual 4th grade field trip in spring took us to the Museum of History & Industry, Ballard locks, and Ye Olde Curiosity Shop. What a delight to see a real hydroplane up close and personal.  Or seeing huge gates open and close watching boats magically rise and fall.  Mr. McGreen was our guide.  While eating sack lunches, he sat next to me.  Our last stop was the waterfront where we examined curios in a store with a real mummy of a Wild West origin.  What a thrill for a young boy from Enumclaw, but more important was the affection I felt from my teacher.

Near the last days of school, Mr. McGreen announced a class auction with currency from credits students had earned. We each brought in our trinkets and collectibles for all to admire until the big day, when we bid in a real auction for the items we’d lately grown to cherish.  The excitement and anticipation were no doubt better than the real thing.  I don’t recall what I bought, but my best friend Jeff purchased comic books based on classic tales like King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table.  They seemed so sophisticated compared to the Archie and Superboy comics I read.

4th Grade, J.J. Smith (1962-63) – Mr. McGreen’s Class.                                             Row 1 (L-R): Mark Myers, Joe Sharp, Billy Kombol, Tom R., Curtis Barber.
Row 2 (L-R): JoAnne Barret, Denise Alcorn, Gail Gardner, Loralyn Walden, Linda Ralston, Naomi Langsea, Sharlene Johnson. Row 3 (L-R): Danny Stanford, ??, Jack Person, Steve Rex, Sharon Peterson, Laurie Mitchell, Don Krueger, Ken Kurfurst, Karl Uhde. Row 4 (L-R): Cindy Nordyke, Tim Thomasson, Marsha Millarich, Pam Ziltner, Janie Whitbeck, Jeff Eldridge, Diane Jones, Tom DeBolt.

The 9th year of my life was not without its challenges.  On more than one occasion I disrupted class and was banished to the hall for Mr. McGreen’s classic discipline, a primitive form of yoga––sitting with your back against the wall in the shape of a chair, but without one.  This was punishment with a purpose: to improve one’s posture, develop muscle strength, and test your ability to sit uncomfortably for long periods, all the time remembering what had brought you there. My behavior improved decidedly after a few trips to the hall.

I did well in most subjects earning A’s in social studies, spelling, and arithmetic; B’s in most others, and a C in reading.  But Mr. McGreen delivered the only ‘D’ of my school career––in penmanship!  Still, he cared.  Mr. McGreen sent home writing lessons administered by Mom where I spent hour after boring hour practicing better handwriting.  The exercise books contained pages of blank lines to be filled by copying and recopying illustrated samples.  I carefully inscribed print and cursive characters within tight parallel lines over and over––diligently trying to make my penmanship legible, or at least less awful.  Their dedication toward my self-improvement paid dividends a decade later during college finals when scripting readable answers in blue books.

The dreaded D in writing (penmanship), the only one received during my school career.

That school year ended and another began.  Again I was blessed with the only male teacher, Mr. Thornburg in 5th grade.  He too was fresh from college and lived a few blocks away in a garage apartment. It was another wonder-filled year pierced by tragedy that November.  The assassination news came over the intercom that Friday morning with students immediately sent home.

During the 1960 election, Mom supported Nixon while Dad voted for Kennedy.  Thinking the thoughts of a 10-year-old, I asked her, “Are you glad Kennedy was shot?”  She sat me down and gently explained, “Of course not.  Kennedy is our president and after an election, he became my president too.”  I still had a lot to learn.  A few months later the Beatles hit America.  I had a crush on a girl who showed me her Beatle cards and told me everything about four guys from Liverpool.  My affection for that girl never blossomed yet never faded.

She had dozens of Beatles cards, which were almost as she was.

A year and a half later I entered 7th grade at an imposing, three-story brick building on Porter Street.  The first day brought good news, Mr. McGreen now taught junior high and would be my homeroom and social studies teacher.  Life with Mr. McGreen in junior high was a transforming experience.  He entertained us with stories of growing up in West Seattle, his college years, sorority panty raids––all of it filling me with dreams of one day attending college.  Each Saint Patrick’s Day, the very Irish Mr. McGreen came to school decked out in a bright green suit.  In my 7th grade yearbook, he affectionately wrote, “To the little general – from Mr. Wallace McGreen.”  The next year he scrawled, “To little Billy Kombol.”

Mr. McGreen’s signed my 1967 Ka-Te-Kan yearbook in Junior High.

In 7th grade, Coach McGreen guided us through flag football.  It was the last year many of us turned out for that fall sport.  It was also when I first realized my youthful sports prowess would soon be eclipsed by small size.  As I look back at the photo, all my friends were there, in one place. That winter he coached our 7th grade basketball team through drills and inter-squad games played in the girls’ gym. After practice, we took long showers under hot water that lasted forever, then walked home in winter air as steam rose from our still-damp hair.  Could life get any better than this?

7th Grade Football Enumclaw Junior High (Fall 1965) – Mr. McGreen, coach.
Front Row (L-R): unknown, Dale Troy, Gary Varney, Jeff Krull, Kevin Shannon, Billy Kombol, Bill Waldock, Kris Galvin, Bill Fawcett, Tryge Pohlman.
Inset: Lester Hall. Back Row (L-R) Scott Davies, Richard Babic, Rick Barry, Jim Partin, Tim Thomasson, Jim Ewalt, Jim Clem – Captain; Wayne Podolak, Del Sonneson, Jeff Eldridge, Steve McCarty.

The cleverest assignments he ever gave, but only to select students was to create countries of our own imaginations complete with maps, history, and customs.  No extra credit was given.  We worked on our projects for weeks. I regularly compared notes with Les Hall and Wayne Podolak, who were also in on the game.  What a brilliant and inspiring activity for cultivating fantasies.  It was a remarkable way for a teacher to challenge pet pupils.

One of our biggest thrills were the State “A” Basketball Tournaments.  Mr. McGreen invited a few of us (Jim Clem, Gary Varney, Les, and Wayne) to pack into his fastback Mustang, pure status for 12-year-old boys in Enumclaw.  After driving us to the UPS Field House we experienced a menagerie of teams and colors competing for the state title.  Later we stopped at Cubby’s on Auburn Way South for burgers and fries.  Back home I swam in the glory of the evening just spent.  You can’t make this stuff up––an engaged and enthusiastic school teacher expanding his students’ horizons by offering new experiences.  It was an amazing way to grow up!

Mr. McGreen from my 1966 Ka-Te-Kan yearbook.

Time marched on.  I said goodbye to junior high and left Mr. McGreen behind.  New teachers, coaches, friends, and interests arose. High school beckoned and so did a driver’s license, after-game dances, chess team, Boy’s State, Hornet newspaper, Courier-Herald sports writer, summers selling popsicles, Saturdays working at the mine office, water-skiing, movies, malls, graduation, then off to college.  Upon graduating in 1975, I received an unexpected congratulatory card from my 4th and 7th grade mentor.  Mr. McGreen remembered me after all those years.  Being a foolish young man of long hair and little regard, I hadn’t the presence of mind to write a proper thank-you note.  Decades passed and still, I hadn’t.

Many years later, I attended his retirement party where we exchanged pleasantries.  The next time I saw him was at my Mother’s funeral.  His kindly face had aged but it touched me all the same.  I began to consider that I was but one of thousands of students he taught.  Yet he made me feel so important.  Did he know how profoundly he’d impacted my life?  A thank you message was long overdue.  A year later, I sat down and finally wrote my rambling letter much of which is replicated here.

Mr. McGreen was one of the best people in my life.  The seeds he sowed took root and my life became richer for it.  Though eons ago, his mentorship was one of the most precious gifts I’ve ever received.  

So I’ll end where I began.  Perhaps there’s a Mr. McGreen in your life who never knew the extent of your gratitude.  Maybe this could be the day your letter is written and that gratefulness acknowledged.

* Adapted from a letter written to Mr. McGreen on Saint Patrick’s Day, 2012, from his former student, Bill Kombol.

 

 

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Poetry by Pauline

A photo album Pauline assembled during high school years yielded two of her poems.  Her first was brash and bawdy  while the second reflective and self-assured.   “Boyfriends” likely dates to her junior year (1944) judging by who’s mentioned in the poem and her album photos that year.

The second, “This world that we’re livin’ in” dates to after graduation – but it’s hard to say exactly when.  I’ve included the type-written poems plus select photos to illustrate her high school friendships.

This is my poetic tribute to the best Mom I ever had, Pauline Lucile (Morris) Kombol (1927–2011).  Happy Mother’s Day from your historian son, Bill Kombol – May 8, 2022.

Judging by the number of photos in her high school album, Shirley Stergion (right) was probably Pauline’s best friend among many.  In front of Enumclaw High School located at 2222 Porter Street.

Boyfriends

We girls and our boyfriends,
We have quite a time.
But for the ones we like best,
We wouldn’t give a dime.
I chase after everyone I know I can’t get,
But what do you care, it’s no skin off your tit.

Well, JoAnn likes muscles, Erna like chins,
But some like boys with plenty of sins.
And I’ve got one, you all know who,
It’s Howie I’m speaking about to you.
Valera likes to have about six on the string,
And her heart tells her it’s just a fling.
Now Beve likes Renton, and you know why,
Just mention Tony’s name, and listen to her sigh.

But this thing called love, has broken many hearts,
Yet it has only caused others to let a big fart.
What would you do, if there weren’t any boys?
Well, we wouldn’t be so sad and there’d be many more joys.
But as times goes on and variety is the spice,
You’ll probably be at the church getting showered with rice.

I can picture it now, Erna and her hubby,
She’ll love his chin even if he isn’t chubby.
And here comes JoAnnie showing her muscle,
With her butt held in by a big wire bustle.
And look! There’s Lois, the big old fat,
She hasn’t left the church, ‘cause that’s just where she sat.
She’s an old maid and will never get married,
She couldn’t get Howie, so now she’ll be buried.
Next comes Beve, with her big toothy smile,
There’s pompadour Tony at the end of the aisle.

And there stands Valera, all wide eyed and mad,
She couldn’t get married and am I glad.
She and Miss Calahan are figuring out a way,
That they can marry two guys and be happy that day.
But it isn’t possible and she should know,
And I’m afraid if she ever tried it, to jail she’d go.

It’s ten years later and what do you think,
Here comes a bunch of wopes and of garlic they stink.
If you saw their chins and looked at their nose,
You’d know right away they’re Erna Merlino’s.
Here’s a little boar with his hair piled high,
One look at him and you’d know who he was and why.
I said to him, “Where’s your daddy, Tony?”
He said, “Oh, home eating crackers and baloney.”
But now we will pass, through Renton right now,
And there’s a dame, sittin’ milkin’ a cow.

We look at her face and guess who it is,
It’s our own JoAnn milking a cow named Liz.
I asked her what had happened to all her husband’s money,
She gave me a dirty look and said, “Don’t be funny.”

As I started home, I stopped at the lake,
I wanted to see Howie, so I pulled on the brake.
I went to the door and rang the bell,
I heard Howie yell, “I’m out here in the well.”
In the well I thought, now’s my chance,
To corner him into the wedding dance.

I finally married him after this long time,
And after 80 long years
I’m a bride at 89!!!!!

Appearing in the poem:
Erna – Erna Jean Williams
Beve – likely Beverly Boland, but possibly Beve Rocca
JoAnn – JoAnn (Ewell) Clearwater
Howie – Howard Johanson
Valera – Valera Pedersen
Lois – Lois (Buck) Hamilton
Miss Calahan –De Lona Calahan, Tiger Tales Yearbook staff advisor
Tony – presumably Tony Merlino of Renton

Written circa 1944, during her junior year at Enumclaw High School

The final draft of Pauline’s “Boyfriends.” The first draft had typos and was missing the final stanza.
The boy she finally marries (in the poem) at the age of 89 – Howard ‘Howie’ Johanson (photo from Tiger Tales 1945, Enumclaw High School yearbook).
Valera Pedersen, Beve Boland, Pauline Morris, Erna William, and Shirley Stergion, May 1944 on the front lawn of EHS.  Interestingly, Shirley’s name did not appear in the poem, but then again she and Jimmy Puttman were a couple during high school and then married shortly thereafter. 
“Seniors” Spring 1945: Shirley Stergion, Yvonne Cross, Faye Timm, and Pauline Morris on a bicycle ride through the surrounding countryside.
Erna Williams at Enumclaw’s Avalon Theater, May 1944. Both Pauline and Erna worked at the Avalon, then located at the N.E. corner of Cole St. & Myrtle Ave.

This world that we’re livin’ in

This world that we’re livin’ in
Is awful nice and sweet–
You get a thorn with every rose
But ain’t the roses sweet.

I’ve shut the door on yesterday,
Its sorrows and mistakes:
I’ve looked within its gloomy walls
Past failures and mistakes.

And now I throw the key away
To seek another room,
And furnish it with hope and smiles
And every spring–time bloom.

You have to live with yourself, you know,
All your whole life through.
Wherever you stay, or wherever you go,
You will always companion you.

So–it’s just as well to make of yourself
The person you’d like to be,
And spend each day in the pleasantest way,
With the finest of company.

The typed original of Pauline’s “This world that were livin’ in.”
  • By Pauline Lucile Morris

    Pauline Morris, Valera Pedersen, Bev Boland, Shirley Stergion, at Enumclaw High School, May 1944, on the front lawn of EHS.
“Sub-debs” June 1945 – Top: Nancy Bruhn, Yvonne Cross, Faye Timm, Shirley Stergion, Pauline, Morris.  Lower: Jane Smitterlof, Dolly Grennan, Martha Hanthorn , Marice Heiberg.  Photo on the front lawn of EHS looking east across Porter Street to the stile-standing 18-unit apartment built in 1926, in which Pauline lived sometime after high school.

Post Script:   Morris – Stergion  – Puttman – Kombol

Pauline Morris and Shirley Stergion, May 1944 – their children, Lynne Puttman and Bill Kombol, 1968.

Our moms were BFF before there was such a thing.  We’ve been 5-year reunion friends since graduation.  Their names were Shirley Stergion and Ponnie Morris until they married Jim Puttman and Jack Kombol.

Her name is Lynne always misspelled Lynn and I was called Billy the name she still calls me.  They were Tigers from the Class of ’45.  We were Hornets from the Class of ’71.  Their 1944 picture was taken on the front lawn Enumclaw High School on Porter Street.  Our 1968 Ka-Teh-Kan yearbook photo was taken inside the gym of the same building – by then Enumclaw Junior High.

They have both passed to the world beyond ours: Shirley in 2019 and Pauline in 2011. We reached the 9th grade Hall of Fame with our funniest laughs.  Lynne became a stand-up comedienne helping people laugh.  Bill studied Economics which is no laughing matter.

But wherever our lives have rambled, we share the bond our mothers shared – Enumclaw.  Some say it translates as a ‘place of evil spirits’ while others claim it’s a ‘thundering noise.’

Whatsoever Enumclaw may be – where so ever Enumclaw may reside – long may her spirit dwell.

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My Week in Ireland with a Welsh Rugby Team

This essay came from a letter written to my parents from Middle Mille, Wales.  It was completed from memories of what I left out.  Back then, I was too embarrassed to tell Mom and Dad the rest of the story. 

April 24, 1978

Dear Mom & Dad:

Well, it’s been some time since I last wrote so I thought to dash off a few lines to keep you up to date.  By the time you receive this letter, Scott (Hamilton) should be back in the States, although not necessarily in Washington.  I’ve been here at Scott’s since my last letter, save for a brief sojourn to Ireland where I met up with a Welsh rugby team and toured around with them.  They were really friendly and a lot of fun.  I got to see my first rugby match and did a heck of a lot of something that Welsh rugby clubs do best – drink beer.

In the pub after the game with the Welsh rugby team.

Actually, it was a very strange week.  I met these guys my first night in a pub after I’d ferried from Fishguard, Wales and made my way to the town of Wexford on the southeast coast of Ireland.  They were staying in a big hotel and one of the mates said, “There’s plenty of room at our hotel, so why not come stay with us and go on tour?”  That sounded fine so I did.

I kind of became their mascot and they all called me “Yank,” never bothering to learn my name.  I endeared myself to the club (guys about my age) after their first match.  We were all sitting in the opposing Irish team’s pub.  We were drinking beer, lots of Irish-made Guinness, and eating sandwiches and drinking more beer and singing songs, and having a cracking good time.

The Tonna boys wore red and white.

The Welsh love to sing and we sang almost every song they knew (no not really, there is no end to the number of songs they know).  So, one of the Tonna boys (as they called themselves being from Tonna, Wales near Neath Port Talbot) challenged me to lead the guys in song.  He was a big, fat, long-haired, red-headed oaf named Daffy, but a heck of a nice guy too.

The Tonna Rugby Football Club emblem.

With cheering and jostling they stood me atop this heavy wooden table.  I had to do something and started singing the one song I was guaranteed to remember all the lyrics.  I led them in a rousing rendition of “If I Had a Hammer,” which they all got the biggest kick out of.  After that, I became “one of the boys,” as they’re fond of saying.

Love, Bill

Note: The letter to Mom and Dad describing my time with the rugby team ended here, leaving out the untold story of the rest of my week.

We continued traveling up the east coast of Ireland stopping at small towns along the way.  They played rugby in the late morning; we drank beer in pubs each afternoon; then back to our hotel for more drinking and some nights playing poker.  I even taught them a game or two.  The pattern continued for several days: big hotel breakfasts, sandwiches and Guinness at pubs, then more frivolity until falling to bed.  By this time everybody liked me so much I was almost one of the team, primarily as ‘Yank’ their lucky charm.

The Tonna Rugby Football Club (RFC) photo after a match.

Our final destination was Dublin where they’d catch a ferry back to Wales and I’d tour the Irish capital.  So far, my sightseeing in Ireland consisted of rugby pitches and public houses.  In Dublin fair city we found ourselves in Temple Bar, a lively district where patrons poured themselves from one pub to the next.  Many have street-side windows which open fully guaranteeing easy camaraderie between those in pubs and those passing by.

We’d been good mates for several days and planted ourselves for a sendoff glass to conclude our camaraderie.  After a couple pints, I begged forgiveness and bid farewell. With travel bag in hand, I said my goodbyes to each and wandered the streets of Dublin in search of lodging for the night.  Temple Bar has a confusing hodgepodge of meandering streets and alleys where it’s easy to circle back around.  After surveying several cheap hotels and B & Bs, I found myself walking past the very pub I’d left an hour before.  Cries of “Hey Yank!” were shouted and I laughingly saluted my old friends.  They waved me in and no sooner seated than a pint appeared.  One led to another, and soon I was thoroughly soused.

Relaxing after a ruby match and an afternoon in a pub.

The hours rolled by as we laughed and drank into the night.  They’d be catching the midnight ferry to Holyhead for the long bus ride back to Tonna.  My mind was a muddle – do I leave the pub, drunk as a skunk to find lodging?  Or cast my lot with this scrum and travel back to Wales?  It was late Saturday night and frankly, I was in no position to walk a straight line let alone find shelter.  Choosing the path of least resistance, I stumbled on the bus for a short ride to the ferry.

The Irish seas were choppy that night.  The ferryboat listed in rhythmic patterns perfectly calibrated to agitate a drunk’s equilibrium.  The details of my seasickness are as shabby as I felt and shan’t be detailed here.  The ferry landed and we were back on the bus for the 200-mile journey south along twisting roads to Tonna.  The all-night trip was gruelingly slow and sleep agonizingly fitful.

Upon arrival, Richard, one of the footballers offered a room in the row house where he lived with his folks.  We hit the rack that morning and slept until 2 pm.  I awoke that afternoon with a monstrous hangover.  I drank plenty of water trying to salve my aching brain.  Richard’s mum was a sweet lady who fixed us tea and biscuits.  It was the finest cup of tea I’ve ever tasted.  Oh, that lovely cup of tea, how it soothed my throbbing skull.

In small Welsh towns, locals gravitate to their clubs for the evening’s entertainment. Richard, his dad, and I wandered along to the Tonna RFC clubhouse.  It’s somewhat akin to an Eagles lodge in the U.S.  The largest room was filled with trophies in display cases surrounding tables where young and old rugby players socialized.  Not just the boys I’d traveled with, but their fathers, uncles, and townsfolk who played the sport a generation before. Another pint of ale was probably the last thing I needed, but being a polite young man I good-naturedly accepted and thus began another evening of drinking.   Being Sunday night we left at a reasonable hour.  Early the next morning I bid adieu to Richard who was off to work.  I then enjoyed a pleasant cup of tea with his mum before heading to the town’s station.

My week with this Welsh rugby team thankfully came to an end.  It was time for me to dry out and find my bearings.  I caught a bus to Haverfordwest and made the one-mile walk to Middle Mille for several more days with Scott before his planned departure and mine.  My next stop was London town.

Scott Hamilton’s home in the tiny village of Middle Mille was once the town’s public house, now called pubs.

Postscript: Seven years later, I realized alcohol was not my friend.  The story of May 26, 1985, the day I quit drinking is still being lived. It was the second-best decision I ever made. 

 

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Giving Thanks to Mr. Hanson

Seated in the front pew of Maple Valley Presbyterian Church on a Sunday in late November, I listened to a sermon delivered by Pastor David Diehl.  It was a good one.  His words were drawn from many sources but grounded in simple lessons.  The Thanksgiving message was focused on the wonder of life’s blessings and how each of us has been enriched by others.  As the sermon drew to a close, he laid down a challenge – think of a person who’s touched your life, in a small way or large, then write a letter of gratitude to let them know you remember.  Perhaps to a parent, or uncle, aunt, teacher, boss, friend, or some hero who has no idea you still care.  Every good action demands a deadline.  Pastor David suggested this week or better yet why not today?

Meditating upon the homily, I considered my life’s journey in search of a juncture when someone’s action set me on the path I followed.  Several candidates no longer walked the earth, never knowing how they helped me in a time on need.  It felt sad for it was no longer possible to say, “thank you.”  There’s nothing like feelings of guilt as inspiration to be a better person. 

A week later, I’d done little more than imagine the letter that could be written.  Good intentions though admirable, produce few results.  A wise uncle regularly reminded, “The longest journey begins with the first step.” 

My school boy days came to mind.  There were plenty of kind and thoughtful teachers at the four Enumclaw schools I’d attended.  Many were influential.  But which of many made a significant impact on my life?  A decision was made, my letter would be to Mr. Hanson, who taught a one-semester class in economics at Enumclaw High School.  It took some time to compose what I wanted to say but finally mailed it a week before Christmas.

I didn’t hear back from Mr. Hanson.  Unbeknownst to me his health was failing.  A few months later news reached me that Wesley A. Hanson lay dead at age 75.  While golfing with one of his sons, Mike told me how my letter found a treasured place in his desk during the last months of his life.  He’d read it time and again.  It was a bittersweet revelation.

So, here is my sermon – far shorter than Pastor Diehl’s and lacking in eloquence.  Write a letter to someone precious in your life.  Let them know you’re thankful and still think of them.  For this is what Thanksgiving is all about – giving thanks.  Here’s what I wrote:

Mr. Hanson at his lectern listening to a student’s answer (1970 Cascadian).

December 18, 2006

Dear Mr. Hanson:

It was the autumn of 1969.  The previous summer witnessed the moon landing of Apollo 11, the Tate-LaBianca murders by the Charlie Manson family, Woodstock, and my 16th birthday.  I could now drive. Soon the fall semester of my junior year arrived and among my classes were English, advanced Algebra, Chemistry, Spanish 3/4, Typing, and a new offering – Economics.  The class was taught by a certain Wes Hanson, the father of a friend of my brother.  Word had it that Mr. Hanson convinced the educational powers that be, allowing him to teach an informative one semester class to supplement the usual world history and contemporary problem classes.  Late in my sophomore year, I signed up for Economics on the conviction that it would be a college preparatory class.

My ASB card and photo from Sept. 1969.

The next four and one-half months proved most enlightening.  Mr. Hanson taught in his very likable style peppering instruction with stories from his days dealing with farm products in the great American plains.  Each Friday was a 25 question test in true / false or multiple choice formats.  Each Monday, the test results were returned and my paper was usually found to have 24 or 25 correct answers.  By the end of the semester, not only had I earned an A, but also an enduring respect for the subject and the man who taught us.  It would prove to be a lifetime love. 

Not only did Mr. Hanson teach Economics, I also had him for Government, 2nd semester.

Over the next several years, I read newspapers and magazines, closely following the economic issues of the day, from Milton Friedman’s proposed negative income tax for replacing welfare, to the heady days of August 1971 when President Nixon took the U.S. off the gold standard and imposed wage and price controls.  During summers after my junior and senior years, I had a job selling Popsicles and ice cream bars from a three-wheel Cushman scooter in the suburban neighborhoods of east hill Kent.  From my cousin, Dan Silvestri (who owned the business), I learned that long hours of selling ice cream and a sliding 20-24% commission scale would net me $25 to $30 per day.  Working almost every day of the week has merit, because you never have time to spend your earnings, especially living at home during high school summers. 

With my bulging bank account of a couple thousand dollars earned during two summers selling ice cream; a daily job filling the coal stoker at my dad’s downtown Enumclaw building; writing weekly newspaper stories for the Courier-Herald; and working at Palmer Coking Coal on Saturdays, I headed off to the University of Washington in September 1971. 

I took typical introductory classes, not quite sure what to study.  I liked the idea of making money and had my one semester background in high school economics to prove it.  I also had a cousin in the Popsicle business who told me stories of his own ups and downs in the stock market. 

So, as any prudent (impudent?) 18-year-old would, one day I rode a bus from the University district to downtown Seattle then marched into the local Merrill Lynch Pierce Fenner and Smith office.  There I opened an account with one-half the earnings from my various high school jobs.  Four months earlier, Merrill Lynch became the first New York Stock Exchange brokerage firm to offer its shares to the public.  It was the name I knew.

My cousin Dan provided me with a ‘tip’ so I bought 100 shares of Pan Am stock for about $10 per share.  Each day, I dutifully read the stock tables in the Seattle Times or P-I.  My heart jumped or sank with every 1/8th or 1/4th point movement.  Several months later with Pan Am safely in the mid $14s, I sold and pocketed a nice three hundred dollar profit after commissions.  I was hooked.  Making $300 in the stock market was a lot easier than working 12-hour days selling Popsicles. 

From the 1969 Cascadian, the year Enumclaw students were first introduced to Mr. Hanson.

It was the spring quarter of my first year of college.  Among the several survey courses one took as a freshman, I selected Introduction to Economics.  It was taught to 600 dozing students in a huge auditorium that college administrators called a classroom.  It was a standard course for many (hence the size of the class) and a requirement for a number of majors, mainly business.  Thanks to my half semester in Mr. Hanson’s class, I excelled in Econ 200.  So, of course I took Econ 201 (Microeconomics), the second of the two-part introduction to what’s often termed ‘the dismal science.’  Again, I did well. 

My pragmatic nature calculated if I found a subject easy, that should be the subject for me.  I continued with classes in economics and sure enough by next year was majoring in Econ.  During one of those classes, students were given cut-rate subscriptions to the Wall Street Journal.  It’s the newspaper I read to this day.  To make a long story short, I studied hard, did well, and graduated with a B.A. in Economics, magna cum laude

Mr. Hanson was a winner in the classroom and as coach. Here he tells Bill Wheeler what a winner looks like (from the Nov. 26, 1969 Hornet newspaper).

Some philosophers and historians believe an individual is little more than a floating cork in an ocean of tides and currents too strong to resist. They call this determinism.  Others contend each individual is capable of free will and even small events in a person’s life can have profound affects, not only on one person, but upon history.   Though acknowledging the former, I’ve found life much more interesting by subscribing to the latter. I believe one small event – taking a semester course in economics from a high school teacher I highly respect – had a profound influence on my life. 

Another high school subject that proved fundamental was Mr. Worthington’s humanities class.  There we learned that ancient Greeks thought four questions worth asking: “Who am I?”  “Where did I come from?”  “Where am I going?” and “What is the meaning of life?  I’ve spent most time on the second question. 

In trying to answer “Where I came from,” I’ve written a letter to a person who may not know how big of impact his high school class had on one student.  Mr. Hanson – you are that person; your high school course was that impact; and I was that student.  Now, I can’t claim one student, taking a class and going to college to major in economics is going to change the course of human history.  But what I can tell you is how very grateful I am to you for that class you taught 37 years ago.  And for the energy and enthusiasm you put into a subject you loved.  And for the difference you’ve made in my life. 

Though, I admit that my preoccupation with all things ‘economic’ wasn’t always my smartest choice.  It too often diverted my attention from more important things in life.  Perhaps I took too long to fall in love.  But when I did, it was with the right girl, at the right time, and our marriage has brought forth three delightful boys who are the apples of my eye.  No one would suggest I owe this all to you. 

But, I want to say thank you for one very small thing you did, a very long time ago.  Because you might not have otherwise realized how you made such a very large impact on this person’s life. 

You are one of my heroes . . . and you probably didn’t even know it!

Yours truly . . . and truly a student of yours,

Bill Kombol