Blogs > Jim Collins' Editor's Notebook

Jim Collins is editor emeritus of The News-Herald and also serves as executive in residence at Lakeland Community College. His popular weekly column appears each Sunday in Comment in The News-Herald.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Group's numbers dwindle as tribute to beloved teacher rolls on

The legend of Adele Knight marches on.

Miss Knight was a beloved Latin teacher when I was a student at Willoughby Union High School in an era that predates the current one by a few — quite a few — years.

She was, in addition to her other duties, a homeroom teacher, and she was my homeroom teacher in my freshman year, which began in the fall of 1942.

That was a time when many of the graduates were marching off to war. But we of fuzzy cheek were much too young for combat, so we stayed at home and tended to our studies.

Everybody took Latin for two years in those days. Most of us recall little of it. But I do remember sitting in the front row for those two years because Miss Knight, a taskmaster of note, reserved the back rows for her better students, one of which I was not.

Nevertheless, we persisted, did our homework on occasion, and graduated — better persons for our exposure to Miss Knight.

One of those who was indeed a better person because of her influence was a student who was afflicted with polio, walked with a heavy brace on his leg ever since, and went on to become Dr. Wesley J. Pignolet, a physician engaged in the general practice of medicine in Willoughby.

After many years, he went back to school, became a specialist in ophthalmology, and returned to Willoughby, where he remained in practice until retirement.

Wes was always a bundle of ideas, almost all of them worthy of pursuit. One of his finest brainstorms was to form a committee to honor Miss Knight.

The group decided to raise money in tribute to her, but not for scholarships, because any enterprising student could find financial help for college if he or she tried hard enough, we opined.

So after giving the matter considerable thought, the committee decided to honor outstanding teachers in the Willoughby-Eastlake Schools — one at North High and one at South High each year.

Wes herded together a committee of a dozen or so individuals who just couldn’t say no, and we went about our business of raising money.

Miss Knight was still alive at the time, and she heartily endorsed the idea of honoring the district’s top teachers.

So we wrote thousands of letters and raised thousands of dollars, enough to sustain the project for several years.

We determined that each recipient would received a $500 stipend and a handsomely engraved plaque, to be placed on public display at the schools.

We started somewhat modestly, being able to honor only one teacher at the beginning. So we presented the award to a teacher from North in 2000 and one from South in 2001.

We rotated them until 2005, when we gained a little financial stability and were finally about to achieve our goal of honoring a teacher from each high school each year.

With the passing a couple years ago of Dr. Jim McCann, a Mentor dentist for many years and a Union High grad, there are now but two of us remaining from the original, rather large, Adele Knight committee.

Ann Kassing, a teaching colleague of Miss Knight, and I are the two, and we had our annual luncheon the other day with the others who comprise the group, including Superintendent Steve Thompson, North Principal Jen Chauby, South Principal Paul Lombardo, some of the previous winners (sorry, I didn’t take notes on who was there), plus this year’s winners.

I am pleased to report that the 2013 winners of the Adele Knight Excellence in Teaching Award are Steven Nedlik, an educator and athletic director at South, and Deanna Elsing, an English teacher at North.

These awards are especially meaningful, because finalists are nominated and winners selected by their teaching peers. Thus they are the best of the best, the proverbial cream of the crop.

But they deserve much greater praise and recognition than those few words, so I will employ the tactic I used last year.

I will use next week’s space to go into greater detail about the two winners, so that those of you who have never met them will feel you have become better acquainted with them.

One week from now, you will have a greater appreciation of why they were selected for the honor.

And, oh yes, I would also like to tell you how you may contribute to the fund. Simply write a check (any amount is appreciated) to the Adele Knight Excellence in Teaching Fund and send it to Superintendent Thompson in care of the Willoughby-Eastlake Foundation, 37047 Ridge Road, Willoughby OH 44094. It will be placed in its own separate fund within the foundation to use for future awards.


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