For a short, four-year period in the 1960s, the man sitting to my right was a High School teacher. I knew him for two of those. None before, and none after.
He is and has been other things. He is a World War II Navy veteran. He served on Guadalcanal as an aircraft mechanic taking care of F-4F Wildcats, P-38 Lightnings, P-39 Airacobras, and P-40 Warhawks. He also served in similar roles on the USS Bennington CV-20 in the Pacific. And he is a father, a husband and I’m sure a good friend to many. No doubt he is many other things, too.
Mr. Schroer – never “Dutch” to us but always “Mr. Schroer” – taught Electronics at Memphis Technical High School. That’s where I came under his tutelage. At Tech High. Before and after, our paths never crossed.
I could list a long string of events that led me – that propelled me – to that particular school, to that topic, at that point of time. Absent any of those, our paths would never have crossed.
He changed my life.
Destiny? The hand of Divine Providence? A series of nudges–in his life, in my life–all from above?
In life, we are subject to an enormous number of influences that ultimately propel us in certain directions. Some believe those influences are directed, that they are intended to push us in certain ways, that there is a plan, and if we follow it, if we comply, allow it to happen…
I didn’t know I was being pushed.
Instead, I was on the verge of flunking out of High School. I had gone from a B student to Cs, and then an alarming number of Ds. With one year to go, it was doubtful I’d pass the final classes.
With my parent’s no doubt desperate support, I found Mr. Schroer and his Electronics program. The subject looked interesting, and Mr. Schroer with his long, thin black tie, with black-plastic glasses on his face and toting several pens and mechanical pencils in a pocket protector in the pocket of his short-sleeve white shirt, impressed me. It was a different school with no one I knew. I’d get a fresh start. No one knew of my multi-year decline. Perhaps I could squeak through and graduate.
So I went.
And Franklin Delano Schroer became my single most influential teacher.
For two years, one before and then another after graduation, I listened and learned electronics. And I learned many other things that I would not understand for a long time. He taught them, nonetheless, by his demeanor, his sincerity, his attention, and his approving, quiet nods.
All the things I’ve worked on since, the computers, the software, all of it, stem from that experience.
We had no contact after that until 2013. Encouraged by my wife while visiting family in Memphis, I walked up to the door of his home and knocked.
And he answered.