Call Me Grandpa

by Rick Norton
California, USA

Call Me Grandpa

Dad’s life seemed typical of his generation. He graduated from high school during the Depression and worked for a large corporation. He enlisted in 1941 and served in the Pacific and Europe.

On returning, he met his soul mate, married, and had three children. He returned to his prior employer, but needed to continue his education. With his full-time job, home maintenance, and attending to his family, he attended college in the evening and obtained his BS degree Summa Cum Laude.

Once we three kids were on our own, Dad and Mom retired to the Florida panhandle. Two years later, Mom died.

Northwest Florida has no palm trees or yachts. It’s semi-agricultural. Education is often a luxury, with attendant illiteracy. Dad rattled around his house, tried golf and failed to see the attraction, and then saw an ad requesting literacy volunteers.

Dad helped a prisoner learn to read, a parole requirement. He helped another man learn to read because his literate wife was going blind. Then he found his true calling.

Dad began as a volunteer teacher’s aide in a third grade class, helping children with spelling and grading papers. He graduated to the fifth grade, helping with spelling and math. As the school converted to departmental teaching, Dad assisted the math teacher.

We kids only knew what Dad told us. During chilly winters, he lamented unfortunate kids in just T-shirt and shorts. He was saddened by children with nothing under the Christmas tree. He loved the kids and school and hated summers, so he tutored.

Called “Grandpa”, he even wore a hat emblazoned “Call Me Grandpa”. He said the kids kept him young.

At 88, after ten years commuting 30 miles to school in his sputtering 1979 Chevy, his legs weakened. He was admitted to a Rehabilitation Center for physical therapy to improve his muscle tone. One spring afternoon during a nap, he passed away peacefully.

At his memorial service, his students eulogized him with a 15-minute video tribute. They compared him to George Bailey in “It’s a Wonderful Life” for the 1,200 student lives he touched. He inspired “his kids” to learn.

At the reception, we heard over and over again, “Thanks to your dad, my son got his first A in math.” “My son won the spelling bee.” “My daughter won the citizenship award.” Plus, none of “his kids” came to school in winter without at least one pair of pants, a warm shirt, and a jacket. Nor did Santa miss any house, despite Dad’s fixed income.

He received numerous awards from the State of Florida, the county and schools. The Chamber of Commerce named him Citizen of the Year. We found newspaper clippings and video tapes of TV interviews.

His work was done without fanfare from the richness of his heart. I hope to live as long, die as peacefully, and leave half the legacy. I hope his life inspires you as it has me.

Originally published as HeroicStories #645 on December 30, 2005

2 thoughts on “Call Me Grandpa”

  1. This story made my heart swell. As a former teacher myself, I know the rewards of doing a job well, of watching students grow, not only in the given subject, but as young people with developing self-esteem, with respect for themselves and respect for the teacher who gives freely of her or himself. Teachers have the ability to give a child meaning in their life as they learn the value of engagement and perseverance, and that hard work leads to success, which in turn can open doors in the future. Many teachers go above and beyond the call of duty but remain unsung heroes. Fortunately, Grandpa was not one of those.

  2. What a great person. I seems that the student and the faculty appreciated him.
    These days though, the politicians would be accusing him of groomingg these same students. Be careful who you vote for.


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