Sunday, June 22, 2014

A tribute to a colleague, Joe Wissinger "As a general rule, teachers teach more by what they are than by what they say." Unknown

Every day, I think about what I would like to write about for my next blog, and the next one, and the next one,  and you see where I am going with this thought. I loved being a teacher for so many years, and I do have so many stories.  However, sometimes, material presents itself and I know that if the subject touches me, I will write about the topic with feeling and depth, thus making you, the reader, react to my words.  (After all, isn't that what writers do?)  Such a topic presented itself this week. 

Last Sunday, I received an email message from the daughter of one of my longtime teacher friend, Joe Wissinger.  Joe and I have been friends since I began my teaching career at North Allegheny in 1976.  In many ways, he was a mentor for me, as well as the rest of the faculty, as Joe was a true veteran teacher, with a career span at NA from 1953-1986.  Many of my former colleagues actually had Joe as their tenth grade Biology teacher. The retired teachers from  NA are a tight group, as we continue to see each other at social events and correspond through emails.  We let each other know when something wonderful happens, or something tragic. We continue to support each other as friends and former colleagues, doing whatever we can when called upon.  Joe was an important part of our group.  For his 90th birthday last November, he received over 200 cards from his NA friends.  When he became ill in January, the cards from friends kept him going.  That is, they kept him going until June 15, Father's Day, when the spirit was willing, but the flesh could no longer go on.  That was the information in the email message I received from Joe's daughter Linda:  that Joe had passed on.

I attended the funeral on Friday, and by listening to two eulogies, one by his daughter and one from his son-in-law, I learned something really important.  Even at the age of 90, Joe's influence as a teacher did not stop.  He was still teaching people how to tie flies through Trout Unlimited; he was still carving birds and showing his work, and he was still influencing past students who continued to send him birthday cards and Christmas cards- even at the age of  90.  I have used this quote before:  "A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops." -Henry Adams  -but never before has it seemed as appropriate to use as it does right now.  I knew Joe was beloved by his students and the staff, but who knew at age 90 former students would continue to write cards and letters to extol the influence of a good teacher? As I sat at the funeral and listened with my heart, I thought of the thousands of students Joe taught, always engaged in the classroom, and sharing his passion for the outdoors, especially fly fishing, and making biology as intriguing as a mystery novel.  He literally "hooked" his students through his three passions of science, teaching, and fishing, making his class as magical as Diagon Alley and Harry Potter.  Joe's quiet and passionate demeanor and his high expectations made his class a favorite, especially for the naturalists and outdoors-men, many of whom became teachers of science and other interesting subjects.  I really do believe that the highest compliment that can paid to any teacher happens when the student is so enamored with learning, that he/she, too, becomes a teacher.  Many of Joe's later colleagues were his former students. 

So, back to the quote.  "A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops." -Henry Adams. Joe's influence is not even close to stopping.  He has many followers actively involved in life, tying flies, fly fishing on Spruce Creek and other venues, carving hand crafted birds that are so beautiful they seem they will fly away, and teaching others to love the things in life that Joe loved.   One teacher's influence . . . so many lives touched.  Such a beautiful man.  Such a wonderful friend.  Such an eternal legacy.  My friend, a great teacher, Joe Wissinger. 

Rittman Publishing, LLC

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