National Teacher’s Appreciation Week Sparks Memories

Madame Tanguay helps student Wendy Koenig, the future mayor of Estes Park, master pronunciation of French words. Photo originally appeared in Whispering Pines, the 1972-1973 Annual of Estes Park High School.

Most of the time, I don’t find it to be very difficult to hang out in the present while glimpsing into the future. However, this past week, while striving to hang out and glimpse, I found myself doing an uncharacteristically large amount of looking in the past. I shouldn’t be surprised that this happened. After all, this is the 50th-anniversary year of my graduation from Estes Park High School, and I’ve been busily working with the committee that’s planning the reunion. Moreover, May 8-12 is National Teacher Appreciation Week. Nor should I be surprised that work on the reunion, and the special week for teachers are sparking many warm memories about my school days here. The memories have two common themes.

One common theme consists of the many adjustments and extra efforts by teachers that made it possible for me to compete in national and international track and field meets, while also fulfilling the education requirements of the school. It’s a theme that’s evident in a memory of the chemistry lab being open early on Monday mornings by Mr. Hainley, so I could complete the experiment I missed on previous Friday afternoons because I was competing in track meets. It’s evident in memories of Mr. Keith allowing me to turn in English assignments due Friday, on the following Monday, knowing that I did them after long hours of travelling in a van and full days of competing. Further evident in Madame Jean Tanguay meeting with me during lunch break and after school to work on my French pronunciation (having directed me to take French instead of Spanish because I cannot roll my “r” sound). Many adjustments and extra efforts from these and other teachers made it possible for me to graduate with honors from EPHS while earning athletic honors elsewhere.

Another common theme involves the people who recognized I had God-given-abilities and took time to encourage me to fully realize what I received. Such was the case in 1970, when PE teacher Judy Jenista saw that I had abilities in sports, particularly track and field, and called me into her office. There she gave me a flyer for a Pentathlon competition in Broomfield. Then told me I should enter because I could do four of the five events with very little practice. She suggested, perhaps a track coach could help me. With no coach available, my father stepped up. The day before the competition he took me to the track in Estes to have me try hurdling.

When I arrived at the meet, the meet official lined all the competitors up along the track. My clothing —long shorts, knee socks, tennis shoes, not spikes and no team uniform— must have given the official a hint that I was new to competition. He put me in the last heat. By the time I got to the shot-put event, word was out that extra instruction for me was in order. Having heard the word, the official instructed me to step in the back of the ring, go to the toe board, push the shot, don’t throw it like a baseball then step out of the ring at the back. I did what he said, had a valid throw and opted not to put the shot again. By the end of the final event, the 220-yard dash, I had scored enough points to qualify to compete at the AAU regional meet two weeks later in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Soon after, I joined the Colorado Gold track team and the rest, as they say, was history.

Now, looking back, with the benefit of time and space, at the themes of my memories, I can clearly see that I have led a life that was made possible by the efforts of many teachers. They cared about my educational and athletic development and didn’t let me cut corners on either. For you I am eternally grateful. Merci beaucoup.

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