It shouldn’t have surprised me. But it did.
He’d been talking about it for several years, but the answer was always the same: he would teach for just one more year.
And then another school year would pass and I would ask if he was going to retire.
No, just one more year.
So as the school year was winding down this year, I didn’t even bother to ask my father if he was going to retire. Because, well, I guess I just assumed.
And because he waited.
He waited until everyone else had announced their retirement. He waited until after the annual retirement reception. He waited until he knew there would be no hoop-la, no recognition, no swingin’ soiree. He waited until almost the very last moment to do it.
I remember walking into my parents’ house after work one day earlier this summer and he sheepishly announced that he had retired. I was speechless.
After serving for 35 years in the same position, in the same building, for the same school district, my father, Ron Eckerson, retired from the Maryville R-II School District as the vocational resource educator at the Northwest Technical School.
He was hired in 1976 as the job sample/special needs teacher at what was then called the Maryville Area Vocation Technical School. He also spent 25 years coaching, both cross country and track (and even one year of soccer), and assisted with the FACT Club. And, he worked during the summers as part of the maintenance crew, painting, refinishing floors and getting the building ready for each new school year.
More than all of his titles and responsibilities, over the past 35 years, my dad has been an influence for good for hundreds of students, athletes, co-workers, parents and community members.
He’s taken students on FACT Club trips all over the country. And he’s attended hundreds of games, meets, matches, concerts and events.
Ronnie — as some of my friends called him when he was our track coach — always has a smile on his face and a friendly wave or hello which accompanies his very dry sense of humor.
Looking back, I’ve learned a lot from the example he set through his teaching years.
He’s a very hard worker and he’s always dependable. He hardly ever missed a day of work, amassing over 300 sick days. And when he was there, he was always willing to help others out with whatever was needed.
He also deeply cares about people and is one of the most patient people I know.
His announcement — or non-announcement as it was — also brought back a flood of memories of him at the Tech School…
When we would go out to visit him as small kids, Charlie Ware would give us M&Ms to eat from the “school store” every time we’d stop by.
Playing “Where in the World is Carmen San Diego” on the computer in his room.
Turning the knobs of the vice on his work table, just one of his many “cool” building trades tools he had for his students.
Walking down the dark hallways when we were there after hours or when we were watching a ballgame on TV.
The smell of motor oil in the auto mechanics shop.
The area schools’ mascots painted on the walls.
And then the people. So many people who my dad worked with and who became friends, and some, even more like family.
He outlasted all of his vo-tech colleagues, the ones I remember from my childhood, and even many that I remember from my high school years.
Those who are there today wrote some of the kindest words to him after he retired (after they’d recovered from the shock of him leaving)…
“Thanks for all you have done for NTS and its students throughout the years. You will be missed.”
“You will be sorely missed by me and all the hard work and how responsible you are. I never had to worry that the work would be done and done right.”
“Thank you for all your years of hard work. You will be missed.”
“A word of thanks is not enough.”
“Our hearts are full of happiness for you but sadness for us and all the kids that we will have next year. You are loved and missed already.”
“It’s been a joy working with you.”
“Thank you so much for all you have done for me through the years. I already miss you!”
“I thought you were going to wait on me. But you didn’t! Good luck in anything you do. We will definitely miss you.”
His years as a teacher — and everything else that he was during that time — reminds me of a quote by Abraham Lincoln, who said, “Whatever you are, be a good one.”
That’s my dad. He’s been “a good one” … a good example, a good teacher, a good friend… to so many over the past 35 years.
By the way, dad, I know you’ll hate that I did this, but I couldn’t resist. Thanks for who you are and all you do.