“Dear Mr. and Mrs. Shaw, I read with great interest the recent article in the Independence Examiner – ‘His No. 1 goal was to become a Navy pilot.’ What a wonderful story – this is why I am writing to you.”

“Dear Mr. and Mrs. Shaw, I read with great interest the recent article in the Independence Examiner – ‘His No. 1 goal was to become a Navy pilot.’ What a wonderful story – this is why I am writing to you.”

So began John “Jack” D. Wear’s letter to Bill Shaw, a World War II Navy pilot and Jack’s boyhood hero, and Joann Wilson Shaw, Jack’s fifth grade teacher at Ott Elementary School, in Independence, 65 years ago.

“... I have heard that boys (my age) often develop a crush on their teacher – so true, because I had a crush on a young, vivacious, very pretty, kind teacher by the name of Joann Wilson,” he wrote in his one-page letter.

A letter he personally delivered to his “favorite teacher” when they recently met for the first time in 65 years for an interview at The Examiner office to renew acquaintances and talk about the war years of 1944-45, when 11-year-old Jack was in Miss Wilson’s class. Also present was Bill Shaw.

Though Jack had never met him before, he had heard numerous compliments about Bill from his 20-year-old teacher, who was engaged to the handsome pilot, who flew a two-engine PBY Catalina seaplane while assigned to Attu, the northern-most island in the Aluetian chain.

Running across the names of the Shaws in The Examiner after all these years was a humongous surprise.

“I didn’t even know they were in town,” the Independence native quips. “We haven’t talked in all those years.”

It wasn’t until reading that Bill and Joann were married in August 1945 and had celebrated their 65th anniversary this year that it “all clicked” – Joann was “Miss Wilson” and Bill was his hero and Miss Wilson’s fiancé.

And it was this long-ago memory, Jack says, that inspired him to write to his favorite teacher and let her know how special she was.

“You probably find this (letter) boring,” Jack’s letter concludes, “but when I read the article, I wanted you both to know what an impression you made on a young man many years ago.”

As Jack drove to The Examiner for the reunion, he was sure he would not recognize Miss Wilson, and he didn’t. And he was just as sure Miss Wilson would not recognize him either, and she didn’t. Had Bill not been wearing his “PBY Catalina” cap, he  would never have known the couple sitting in the car parked beside his car was Bill and Miss Wilson.

“I knew Bill was a veteran, and when I saw Joann sitting in the car, I thought, ‘This is who I am going to meet.’”

After introducing himself, Jack gave Miss Wilson a warm hug in the parking lot and Bill a hearty handshake.

“I had to do that,” Jack quipped about the embrace, as they slowly walked into The Examiner office, where he handed his heart-warming letter of appreciation to his favorite teacher.

Sitting at the long table in the conference room, Jack recalls walking to Ott School from his home on Lakeview, just off East College. He remembers using a lighted tunnel at U.S. 24 and Noland Road to get to school, which was located where William Chrisman High School is today. When the new high school was constructed many years later, it was built around old Ott School.

“Most people don’t remember there was an underpass under the highway,” he  says of the underground passageway that is no longer there.

As an 11-year-old boy, Jack says he was “very much enamored by the fellows in the service” – especially Miss Wilson’s “sweetheart,” whom she often talked about with much affection.

“I think it came across loud and clear that I was in love with (Bill), Joann interjects, adding, that no one in her class was surprised when she announced her wedding.

Jack doesn’t remember everything that happened in Miss Wilson’s class, but he does recall the class often wrote letters to the Navy pilot and the men in his squadron. On one occasion, letters to the squadron were placed in a scrapbook. Jack was asked to  draw the cover design.

“Since I was into drawing airplanes, I drew a picture of a PBY on the cover of the scrapbook,” Jack says, explaining the PBY Catalina was easy to draw.
With Jack firing questions at his former teacher, Joann fired one of her own at her former student.

“Do you remember that for a PTA meeting we built a trolley car out of cardboard and sang the “Trolley Song” as part of the program. Do you remember that?”
“No, Jack relied, “but I do remember we had a little band in a younger grade, and I played the triangle,” he says laughing.

Trying to jog Jack’s  memory, Joann reminds him the trolley was a big art-class project in which the kids stood behind a cardboard trolley with their heads sticking out the windows, singing “Clang, clang, clang went the trolley.”

“That was the thing I had the most fun with,” recalls the 1941 William Chrisman High School graduate and class valedictorian. Bill graduated in 1940.

Wanting to be a teacher since she was a little girl, Joann didn’t have to wait long to get her wish. Being the valedictorian of her class, she was hired to teach the fifth grade at both Columbian and Ott schools – Columbian in the morning; Ott in the afternoon.

The first-year teacher had no car and traveled to Ott on a Jitney, which she describes as an elongated car – with routes and schedules – that went short distances. After riding to Independence Square, she had to disembark and take another Jitney to Ott. But if she missed connections?

“I had to walk,” she chuckles. “If I didn’t show up, the principal, of course, knew I was walking that day.”

Following her marriage, she left the area, returning  later to finish her degree by correspondence in 1950. When her two sons entered school, she returned to teaching and taught six years at Pitcher Elementary School in southwest Independence.

Jack Wear retired from Hallmark Cards in 1991 after a 33-year career. He has worked on-call at Speaks Family Legacy Chapels since he retired 19 years ago.
Renewing acquaintances with Jack, Joann says, has been “such a pleasure and an exciting feeling to think that somebody is still around that remembers me as a teacher.”

When Bill displayed an engagement photo of Joann on the table, Jack’s face lit up as he pointed his finger at the black and white picture of the beautiful girl with long, flowing hair and said excitedly, “After 65 years, this is the way I remember her.”

Thanks for the memories, Jack, Joann and Bill. And thanks for sharing them with us. It’s never too late to say “thank you” and share your true feelings.