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I click onto the funeral home’s guest book, curious to see how many of Mr. Winnie Leaphart’s former students have logged in.
And as soon as the guest book comes up, I see I’m not the only former student who believes Mr. Leaphart touched their lives in powerful ways when he taught at Indian Land High School.
The very first entry is from a former student who writes “Your dad… was always a role model for me, and I am in education now because of him…”
I scroll down a couple of comments to one that reads, “He and your mom were wonderful examples and mentors for young people for many, many years. I know you are proud of the role he played in many lives.”
And to another, “Your dad gave me the only paddling I ever received at IL...and I pretty much deserved it. Your mom and dad were great folks and I very much admired them both.”
And another, “There are so many great memories, going back so far! The trips to the FFA beach houses in the days before sunscreen (remember that stinky Noxema?)...the trips to the mountains (the flying squirrel!!!)...the incredibly hot cannery where your parents gave me my first job...and ALWAYS your dad’s sense of humor (milk = bovine juice??!!) He certainly was one of a kind. Winnie and Sara will live on through all the students they taught over the years. They’ve both left quite a legacy you can be proud of.”
And another, “A great man with so much wisdom has taken his place in heaven. His teaching of life has touched many people, mine included.”
Mr. Leaphart was an agriculture teacher, but he taught me so much more than agriculture.
He taught us as much about math as he taught us how to build a fence, as much about problem solving as about how to repair small engines and as much about observation and deductive reasoning as soil sampling.
And probably most importantly, he taught us about living life to make a difference for others – he constantly took us to competitions and exhibits after school, on his on time, in his brand new Buick that had air conditioning that was amazingly cold.
So I think about Mr. Leaphart as I visit schools and see so many of our teachers giving up part of their summer to “get ready” for students, see administrators working on ways to make this year even better than last year.
I think about the lives these educators will touch the way Mr. Leaphart touched mine, the hundreds of thousands of lessons our teachers will teach, not just about math and English and science and social studies, but about life and how to make a difference.
I look forward to the beginning of a new school year, and I hope our teachers realize that what they do this year will be alive decades later in the students they teach.
And I hope our students and parents will realize how caring and dedicated our teachers are to making a difference for their students – in academics and in life.
Our schools are still full of Mr. Leapharts, who give their all to teaching, and students who are changed forever by teachers who care.