Tag Archives: education

Simple writing prompt mentally sends me back in time to the classroom

By Bruce Stambaugh

The assignment was to write about an object of our choosing located in this sterile college classroom. Typical for a writing workshop, the prompt was designed to get the participants to use sensory descriptors to illustrate the object.

I chose the pencil sharpener affixed to the wall by the only doorway in this institutional setting. The sharpener stood out for me because it seemed so out of place in this 21st century technologically driven global society of ours.

manual pencil sharpener

An old pencil sharpener.

I wondered what in the world an old-fashioned pencil sharpener was doing in this classroom in 2017? Did anyone even use pencils anymore? I thought college students recorded everything on smartphones, iPads and laptop computers.

The answer to my silent wondering became evident as I scanned this bland environment. Everything in this classroom screamed 1977.

Boring blue-gray paint covered the cement block walls on three sides. Strange, random circular insets pockmarked the poured cement west wall. Front and back white boards with telltale scribbling from previous lessons served as classroom bookends. Parallel rows of the old-style fluorescent lights emitted a familiar faint buzzing sound. The textured tile of the suspended ceiling held the lights captive. The well-worn Formica tabletops told their age. I wiggled in the uncomfortable hard plastic molded seats riveted to shiny steel supports that were the student chairs.

My eyes kept returning to the pencil sharpener. It engaged my mind, generating pleasant, personal flashbacks to my teaching days now long past. Nostalgia washed over me as I studied the sharpener and rapidly scrawled my notes. I pictured my classroom setting.

Keen, evocative thoughts flooded my brain bringing a smile to my face. This pencil sharpener was situated exactly where all of the others in my elementary classrooms had been, right by the door and hung conveniently above a wastebasket.

The sights, sounds, smell, and textures associated with sharpening a pencil mentally filled my senses. I fixated on the circular dial with holes on the sharpener’s face. It accommodated various pencil sizes, the bulbous container that held the shavings, and the crank handle. The sharpener possessed me.

elementary school

Where I was principal for 21 years.

To keep the custodian happy, I often emptied the pencil sharpeners of their spent contents myself. Students occasionally managed to somehow miss the wastebasket, spilling the shredded pencil shavings and pulverized lead and graphite residue onto the floor.

The pencil sharpener was the office water cooler of the elementary classroom. If a line formed, I instinctively knew students had more than pencil sharpening in mind.

Some students made a game out of it. They would stand quietly and crank the sharpener’s handle, grinding the poor pencil to a pulp.

Despite my obsession, the sharpener’s reservoir often overflowed its ground up contents. The intermingled woody, metallic scent of the shavings invigorated my senses. That pungent freshness helped compromise the curious blend of 30 human body odors. I’ll let your imagination fill in the details.

black and white photo of students

Some of my first students.

With the students studying at their desks, I quietly emptied the sharpener’s mutilated remains into the wastebasket with several quick shakes back-and-forth to ensure all the grindings found their mark. I replaced the sharpener’s rounded case with a metal-against-metal clink and returned to my instructional duties.

I was both surprised and elated by how this unique, unsophisticated classroom mechanism had spawned such poignant recollections for me. This writing assignment triggered treasures long forgotten, aromas and delightful textures resurrected from my 30-year career as a public school educator.

I wouldn’t trade them for anything, not even an electric pencil sharpener.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2017

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A true friend, right down to the end

Edgefield School, basketball team

Edgefield School 6th grade basketball team. Two teammates wore light pants for the photo. Guess who they were?

By Bruce Stambaugh

There are friends, and then there are friends.

Dave and I have been friends for a lifetime. Given our age, that’s a long time. Just to be clear, Dave is several months older than me.

Growing up, we lived just a few blocks apart, though we didn’t necessarily run in the same gangs in our northeast Ohio neighborhood. In the 1950s, that meant we didn’t have the same circle of friends.

lifetime friend

My lifetime friend, Dave.

Still, we’ve been best buddies since grade school. We were in several classes together in our elementary school that overflowed with baby boomers. We have lots of fun memories from good old Edgefield School.

Not only that, but we also went to the same junior high school, high school, and college together. Shoot. We even majored in the same subject, journalism. Dave focused on marketing. I chose news writing.

A funny thing happened on the way to life. After completing our internships, his for a non-profit agency and mine at a major metropolitan newspaper, neither of us pursued that career.

We both ended up in rural Holmes Co., Ohio. Though neither of us was certified, we both became elementary teachers. Dave began his education career at Millersburg, Ohio. I started at nearby Killbuck.

Dave married the love of his life the first year he taught. I married during my second year of pedagogy to a beautiful woman I knew all of nine months. That was 45 years ago.

Guess who our best man was? Yep. Dave. Today, his wife and my wife are also best friends, two of a kind, kind of like Dave and me.

Dave and Kate had a girl and a boy. Neva and I had a girl and boy. We were even in the same Lamaze class together.

Now, no one would ever mistake Dave for me or me for Dave. I’m much more handsome than he is, and more modest too. Dave does have a better head of hair than me, which wouldn’t take much.

Dave and I came from similar God-fearing, middle-class families. His fine folks worked hard to ensure their two sons would contribute in the post-World War II world. Mine did the same, only with five raucous rascals to point in the right direction.

Cleveland Indians

Dave and I both like baseball, too.

Our parents instilled in us good manners, proper eating habits, and to keep the Sabbath like any good, church-going folks would. That meant after Sunday services, we played ball, went fishing or washed the car.

Dave and I dressed alike, too. Hand-me-down flannel shirts and blue jeans were appropriate for many occasions. That trait followed us into adulthood in an uncanny way.

On more than one occasion, Dave and I have shown up at the same event dressed as if we had agreed on the dress code before leaving. We didn’t.

Recently, we arranged to meet for dinner before attending a concert by Sonnenberg Station in Wooster, Ohio.

Right on cue, mostly thanks to our prompt wives, we arrived within minutes of each other. Dave had on a light blue shirt, dark blue sweater, beige khakis, and brown shoes. So did I.

When my wife told Dave’s wife that I was having a colonoscopy, Kate responded, “So is Dave!” The same day. Dave and I just laughed, until the preparations began.

I’m happy to report that we had the same results. We both see our gastroenterologists next in 2026.

I hope each of you have a friend like Dave. I hope you get a good report on your colonoscopy, too.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2016

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Remembering a friend who loved and lived to teach

grandcanyonbybrucestambaugh

The Grand Canyon was just one of many places Paul Sauerbrey introduced me to on our trip “out west” in 1970.

By Bruce Stambaugh

My old friend, Paul Sauerbrey, introduced me to four of our most notable presidents. I met the much larger than life-size George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Teddy Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln at Mount Rushmore in South Dakota.

That was July 1970. I was 22 years old and still wet behind the ears. I went with Sauerbrey, which is what he preferred to be called, and three students on what he termed his annual trip “out west.”

paulsauerbreybybrucestambaugh

Paul Sauerbrey

Prior to this, I hadn’t been west of Toledo, Ohio. Sauerbrey’s introductions on that journey certainly didn’t stop with presidential memorials. He opened my world to travel, whetted my appetite for geography, and showed me first hand just how big and marvelous this great country is.

I was one of the fortunate ones. For many years, Sauerbrey used to take summer excursions from Killbuck, Ohio to the West Coast. He would go with families, students, and other teachers like myself. Having already been to the same places, his main purpose was to teach us first hand about America’s extensive topography and the country’s many cultures.

Sauerbrey got as much pleasure out of observing our initial reactions to encountering the numerous noted locales as he did visiting the places himself. In the space of three weeks, we experienced a diversity of venues, from South Dakota’s Badlands to Southern California’s Disneyland, from Yellowstone National Park to the Grand Canyon.

The trip changed my life. It gave me a perspective on the vastness and beauty of our country that I may never have had if Sauerbrey hadn’t asked me to go along. I’ve been traveling ever since.

There was nothing pretentious or shallow about Paul Sauerbrey. He either liked you or he didn’t, and you definitely knew where he stood, too.

bighornsheepbybrucestambaugh

Paul Sauerbrey got as much excitement out of watching his travel companions making new discoveries, like these Big Horn Sheep, as he did seeing the scenery and wildlife himself.


Sauerbrey was a dedicated and respected teacher. He taught elementary school for 43 years without ever missing a full day of school.

Sauerbrey was an exacting teacher. He was especially particular when it came to English and math, two of his favorite subjects to teach. He could diagram a sentence with the best of them, and expected his students to do the same.

Some thought him a bit too strict of a teacher. As a friend and peer, he simply and rightfully had high standards. Students who could not meet those lofty requirements sometimes found themselves in the doghouse with Sauerbrey.

sauerbreyandkidsbybrucestambaugh

Paul Sauerbrey with our son, Nathan, and daughter, Carrie, when they were youngsters.

To be sure, Sauerbrey had his faults. Don’t we all? He loved to teach and lived to teach. That’s what really matters. In a way, he still is teaching.

Each year several high school graduates benefit from Sauerbrey’s generosity, foresight and commitment to education. He donated a majority of his estate to the Holmes County Education Foundation.

In the 20 years since his death on Feb. 13, 1993, scores of students have been awarded scholarships to assist in the cost of their college education. Sauerbrey saw the importance of having a college degree, especially for students from a rural area. Many students who have received a Sauerbrey Memorial Scholarship have been the first in their family to attend college. They have become doctors, directors, lawyers, educators and first-rate mechanics.

Knowing that fact alone would have made Paul Sauerbrey extremely happy. I can imagine the smile on his face. It’s just like the one he had while watching me recklessly scramble to the top of a rock formation to get a better view of four great stone-faced presidents.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2013

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Inspired to make a difference

Living Acts group by Bruce Stambaugh
By Bruce Stambaugh

Kids of all ages inspire me. I guess that had something to do with honing 30 years in public education.

It also motivates me to help award scholarships at the end of each school year for the Holmes County Education Foundation if I can. This year my schedule was free. Once again I found myself seated with several other presenters facing the 2012 graduating class of West Holmes High School, Millersburg, Ohio.

The look by Bruce StambaughLike the others who announced scholarship winners, my job was a simple one. I merely had to read off the names of the recipients of two different memorial scholarships of two of my very best friends in life. Prior to their deaths, Paul Sauerbrey and Helen Youngs had established the scholarships so that youngsters from future generations would be encouraged to further their education beyond high school. Over the years, the financial assistance has helped dozens and dozens of area students attend college or trade school.

I’m always impressed with how well behaved the graduating seniors are. For them, high school is over. They could be off celebrating. But on a beautiful late spring evening, most of the 179 seniors were on hand to accept a simple certificate awarding them their grant. In some cases, students earned more than one scholarship.

Unlike the caricatures too often portrayed about teens in the mainstream media, these young people are polite, thankful and eager to move forward with their lives wherever that may be. Sure, some of them wear flip-flops while others clop to the stage in high heels.

Flip flops by Bruce StambaughMore creative, free-spirited graduates don expressive attire. One kid once came dressed in pajamas. Nevertheless, the students understand the significance of the situation. In many cases, like my two friends, the money is given in the memory of someone. Several are memorial scholarships named for loved ones who died tragically or unexpectedly.

Prior to announcing the scholarship recipients, I take the opportunity to inform the students about Mr. Sauerbrey and Ms. Youngs. Perhaps this is my teacher instinct still coming out.

Mr. Sauerbrey and Ms. Youngs each were persons who made a huge difference in life, not just for me, but also for the entire the community. I wanted to put some flesh and bones and spirit with the names of the scholarships. The students listened attentively.

Both Mr. Sauerbrey and Ms. Youngs were instrumental in the daily activity of Killbuck, Ohio, the village in which they lived most of their lives. Mr. Sauerbrey taught at the elementary school for most of his 43-year teaching career.

Ms. Youngs worked at Killbuck Savings Bank for 55 years. She also served as the town treasurer for 43 years, and loved to play the organ and sing in the choir at Killbuck Church of Christ.
Youth volleyball by Bruce Stambaugh

Previous scholarship recipients have made a difference through their chosen careers. Some have become teachers, doctors, lawyers, bankers and mechanics while others operate their own businesses. Given the grace, respect and appreciation the 2012 graduates showed in accepting their scholarship awards, I expect they will succeed as well.

What really caught my attention though was the support and geniality that the graduating students showed to each other. They truly seemed to care for one another.

If that positive attitude persists in life, these graduates will likely make a difference whatever they do and wherever they land. Mr. Sauerbrey and Ms. Youngs would be very pleased indeed.

Baptism by Bruce Stambaugh
© Bruce Stambaugh 2012

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Joe Wengerd set to end his education career

Joe Wengerd by Bruce Stambaugh

Joe Wengerd announced his retirement after 36 years in education.

By Bruce Stambaugh

The day after the school board accepted his resignation for retirement, Joe Wengerd’s ear was either tuned to the bus radio or had a cell phone pushed against it.

He was still handling his duties as superintendent of the East Holmes Local Schools in his calm, deliberate, concerned way. A snowstorm was approaching, and he had dismissed school two hours early.

With safety foremost on his mind, Wengerd wanted to make sure all the students arrived home safely. He also conferred with the athletic director to reschedule a basketball game.

“This wasn’t an easy decision for me,” Wengerd said about his retirement, “but it was the right one.”

Wengerd said he had thought about retirement for sometime. Finally, he concluded that it was time for a younger person to step in and take over the district’s leadership.

“I’m leaving the best job ever,” he said, “especially given this school district.”

However, one thing Wengerd said he wouldn’t miss was getting up at 4:15 in the morning to check for inclement weather. Altogether Wengerd has spent 21 years in the East Holmes Local Schools. He was superintendent for the last five years. He has a total of 36 years in education.

Wengerd began his career as a counselor at a children’s home in Logan County, Ohio. He later received his education credentials and entered the educational field. He taught elementary school in Ada prior to moving back to Holmes County.

He was principal in the West Holmes Local School District at Millersburg, Lakeville and Nashville elementary schools for eight years before returning to his home school district.

Wengerd said that one of the reasons leaving the school would not be easy was because his roots run deep in the East Holmes community. He was born here, attended Berlin Elementary and graduated from Hiland High School, and lives in the home where he grew up.

“It’s a great community to be connected to.”

Prior to serving as superintendent, Wengerd was principal at Charm, Flat Ridge and Wise elementary schools for four years and at Berlin Elementary for a dozen years. He also filled in temporarily at Hiland High School.

“Each of these were unbelievable jobs,” Wengerd said wistfully. “I didn’t want to leave any of them.

“Each leadership position became such a part of me,” Wengerd said. He also said he considered each a new challenge.

Wengerd said he was hoping for a new landscape to draw him. He won’t be alone in that sentiment. His wife, Phyllis, has also decided to retire after 31 years of teaching. She is a teacher at Chestnut Ridge Elementary.

“We will probably do some short term church service projects,” Wengerd said. “We love the national parks and will probably visit some of them, too.” He said they would also spend time with their only grandchild in Columbus.

The Wengerds have three adult children, all of whom are teachers. Daughters Kate and Maggie both teach elementary grades in Pickerington, and their son, Jesse, teaches math at Berlin.

“We didn’t make them go into teaching,” Wengerd said. But he and his wife weren’t necessarily the sole models for their children either.
“Education is the legacy of Phyllis’ family. She and her three siblings were all in education and so were their spouses.”

Wengerd received his bachelor’s degree from Bluffton University, and his Master of Education degree from the University of Dayton.

True to form, he had been thinking about retiring for sometime.

“There wasn’t a single event that lead to this decision,” Wengerd said. “I thought I would retire out of a building.”

Reflecting on being the district’s chief educational leader, Wengerd said, “I thought the superintendent’s position was a great opportunity to influence our students and give back to the community at the same time.

“I will miss working with the kids,” Wengerd said. “I liked to visit every building when I could.

“I love going out to Hiland and seeing former students that I had in Berlin as a principal. It’s fun to see them grow, mature and participate in extracurricular activities.”

Wengerd said he felt his biggest achievement as superintendent was getting the staff and students to all work in the same direction.

“In the five years I was superintendent, East Holmes received either an Excellence or Excellence with Distinction rating,” he said.

“Those results weren’t me,” he continued. “Those were the students and teachers working hard on student achievement goals.”

Wengerd said school board members were gracious in accepting his resignation.

“They told me they valued my leadership,” Wengerd said. “I greatly appreciated their comments.”

Wengerd said the board would work with the Tri-County Educational Service Center and the Ohio School Board Association in formulating a plan to search for a new superintendent.

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At my age, “old” is a relative term

Reflections by Bruce Stambaugh

Reflections in a farm pond near Benton, Ohio.

By Bruce Stambaugh

Soon I’ll be 63. I used to think that age was ancient. I probably was 36 then.

Of course, there was a time when I viewed 36 as old. I was probably 18. When I was nine, 18 was old. You get the pattern. “Old” is a relative term.

I am not saying that I don’t feel my age. I do. I say that because whoever said 60 is the new 50 must have been 50. They sure weren’t 60.

Ever since I hit the big 6 0, an invisible physical switch seems to have been flipped. I eat less and gain more. I tire too easily, but find consistent restful sleep evasive. I have far less hair than five years ago, and what’s left is mostly gray.

My memory isn’t as sharp as it once was, my dexterity not as nimble. Aches and pains seem the rule rather than the exception they once were, even after only moderate exercise.

I might feel the various bodily effects of aging, but my mind says I’m still young at heart. I’ll be the first to acknowledge that I sometimes act like I’m still 18. But after a half dozen tosses of the baseball to my grandson, my arm feels like it will fall off.

I recently spent an inspirational afternoon with a handful of young people, all in their 20’s. The outing was intended to be an opportunity for quiet reflection and introspection.

When it was time to share at the end of the retreat, I told those assembled that I really felt for them. Here they all were, young, talented, each one much smarter than me, and yet, they were struggling to find jobs that fit their training, experiences and dreams.

I shared how it was so much different for baby boomers like me when we were their age. We graduated from college, and we could basically name our price and place to work. They all laughed when I said, “And I chose Killbuck, Ohio.”

It was one of the best decisions I ever made. Killbuck Elementary School was where I began my teaching career. I was 21, right out of college with a degree in journalism. The only education class I had had was driver education.

That didn’t matter. There was a teacher shortage, and since I had a bachelor’s degree and heartbeat, I was offered a contract 20 minutes into my interview. I made $6,000 that first year, and $186 more the second.

But like most educators, I clearly didn’t teach for the money. I taught because I loved the kids, the personal interaction, the daily battle between routines and spontaneous interruptions, the classroom characters, and the challenging instructional process. In all that, I felt welcomed with open arms and loving hearts.

Sure there were things I detested. Every job has that. That’s where age has an advantage. I have found it more convenient, healthier, and safer to let the good memories override the bad.

I told that crew of young people that I never ever expected that we would be in a situation where good jobs would be so scarce. In hindsight, I realize just how fortunate I was back then, salary not withstanding.

My birthday is my personal reminder that time is short. I want to be as productive, as positive, and as purposeful as possible. You never know what tomorrow will bring.

I want to get up everyday with a spring in my step, a song in my heart and an audacious hope that I will remain forever young regardless of how “old” I am or will be.

One room school by Bruce Stambaugh

The one room Beechvale School near Benton, Ohio has been abandoned for several years.

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