Richmond, Ky. —
“When I come home to you, San Francisco, your golden sun will shine for me.”
— Tony Bennett
A Facebook pop up reminded me to send a birthday greeting to my eighth grade teacher, Jerry Vogt in Cincinnati.
I did. Only to find that he died six months previous.
I’m embarrassed that Facebook encouraged me to send birthday greetings to a dead person.
One of my Facebook friends was murdered.
Until I “defriended” her, Facebook would send messages, saying “you have not talked to Amanda in some time, post on her wall.”
Facebook plays an interesting part in my life. I was a very early adopter and have thousands of Facebook friends. It’s how I keep up with people I have not seen in decades and people I see every day.
My daughter’s fiancé proposed via Facebook. Simpler, cheaper, and as effective as the “down on one knee” method I chose.
Facebook gave me a unique opportunity: the chance to say thank you to a man who made a difference in my life. Going back to eighth grade, adolescence, hit me hard. In a few months, I went from being a shy, conforming kid, to a loud, cocky smart-aleck.
I was a teacher’s worse nightmare.
Jerry Vogt could handle it in a very unique way. The first thing Mr. Vogt did was isolate the troublemakers. He took the four guys smarting off and put them in a row far away from the other students.
He obviously spotted potential. The four of us, included a future dentist, a big time home builder and a high ranking executive at Proctor and Gamble. Looking back, we were the four who had the greatest degree of professional achievement and notoriety.
Like carefully breaking a horse, Jerry did not stifle our energy and creativity. He worked to channel it in positive directions. He was imaginative in how he kept us in line. I was smarting off in music class so he had me stay after class and sing to the rest of the school.
That backfired on him. I was supposed to sing 10 songs but by the third, I had found my stride and my rousing version of “I Left My Heart in San Francisco” forced Jerry to pull out the hook. I was enjoying it too much.
That was my maiden voyage in front of an audience. I’ve always been comfortable out front in the 40 years since then. It’s hard to be pompous after you’ve sang Tony Bennett to an entire grade school. No one who saw it ever forgot it.
One of my classmates was married 20 years later and the band played the song in my honor.
Although he had some traditional techniques, like sending me to the principal’s office and informing my father, who threatened to have me rubbed out, you could see that Jerry was a pretty cool guy who “got” the eighth-graders and found a way to communicate with us.
By the end of the year, I calmed down, came off the segmented row and back to the regular classroom. Jerry had me ready for a tough, Catholic high school were my previous behavior would have had me expelled in a week.
Jerry got out of teaching when I was in college and had a long career as a Cincinnati court reporter. I had a college internship in the courthouse where he worked and we had lunch.
He told me the letter I wrote to evangelist Oral Roberts for a business writing class was the funniest thing that happened during his teaching career. Tony Bennett was a close second.
When Leslie Kennedy Wagner, one of my classmates found me on Facebook, she had also found Jerry and reconnected us. He took pride in my career accomplishments and I was able to thank him for being there at a turning point in my life. The last time we wrote, I told him I was engaged to an elementary school principal, who I married three weeks ago.
Since he knew how much time I spent in our principal’s office, he appreciated the irony in that. His passing did not draw a lot of headlines, but he was given an opportunity to mold young lives and made the most of it. I’m glad I was able to thank him when he could see the finished product, and in a weird way, glad that Facebook sent the after-death birthday notice.
It reminded me of what Mr. Vogt had done.
The Lord speaks in mysterious ways but I never thought that Facebook would be one of them. But since Tony Bennett and Oral Roberts are on my list of life changers, I guess Facebook can be too.
DON MCNAY is a columnist for the Richmond (Ky.) Register. Contact him at email@example.com.