I met “Danny” over forty years ago when we first moved to this little town. He taught math and science in the local high school and he loved to play chess. He worked for a superintendent named Brundleson the kids called “the Nazi.” Brundleson liked to brag that he “ran a tight ship.” Every day Danny and the other teachers would have to walk in to the man’s office and smile and greet him with a handshake. If any teacher dared to utter a word of criticism at any point, he or she was gone. Danny wanted to start a chess club and wasn’t allowed to do so as the parents would think they were doing drugs, Brundleson said. Danny wanted to take his biology students across the road to examine pond life in a small lake nearby, but he was not allowed to because of the danger of crossing the road. Yeah, a “tight ship.”
Anyway, Danny lasted a couple of years and then moved away and after a year of travel he ended up in Appleton, Wisconsin teaching math in a middle school and, with his wife, running an “ABC” house that boarded students from around the country who were being deprived of an opportunity to get a good education by virtue of their social circumstances; they were transferred to cities like Appleton, Wisconsin. Denny and his wife took care of the eight students in addition to their full-time jobs. They were parents, tutors and friends.
As you may be starting to figure out, Danny was one who has given of himself all his life. He is one of the gentlest, most caring people I have ever met. He finds himself by losing himself in the lives of other people. After forty years in Wisconsin, he retired and decided to walk the Appalachian Trail — the whole trail from bottom to top. And he did it. After that he moved to Arkansas and started his retirement. But he read that an “Alternative School” for disadvantaged students needed teachers so he decided to go back to work. He has done that for eight years, working from 7:00 A.M. until 4:30 P.M. each week day, teaching math at all levels, breaking up fights, taking weapons from angry boys, counseling them, and generally being their friend. His wife has been after him to quit as the job is dangerous: many of the kids he works with are marginal criminals; all are “problem kids” that are sent to the schools because they don’t “fit in” anywhere else. Or they have been let out on parole and one condition of their freedom is attending school. It is dangerous work, indeed. But Danny feels it is important and he doesn’t see retirement in his future any time soon even though he is already drawing Social Security.
The man is one of the most balanced people I have ever met. To be sure, things bother him. He is concerned about politics and global warming. But he tends to channel that concern and focus on what he can take care of — the problem at hand. He never seems to get riled up. He is calm and collected. I expect that explains his success with troubled kids. He is like an oasis in a desert. It’s what attracts people to him, and he has many friends. But above all else, he is a person who has spent his life giving himself to others. And it seems to make him happy. Perhaps that is the secret: we benefit most by giving ourselves to others. It sounds selfish, but it is not: it is the heart of altruism — and Christian love.