Many years ago I thought I had a pretty good handle on life, had it all figured out and had developed a pretty independent streak, if I do say so myself. Then my world began to unravel when I was told by my mother that I had to go to school like the big kids.

It all started back in kindergarten at the old Ott School, back when it sat on the corner of U.S. 24 and Noland Road. I was not exactly crazy about going to school and sitting in a class room all afternoon, but my older sister Margie, who was simply trying to give me some encouragement, convinced my little mind that kindergarten was not in a class room, but was actually out in the garden with tomato plants, asparagus, and sweet corn.

Imagine my disappointment when I discovered that I had apparently misunderstood her, because kindergarten was not out in the garden at all, but was indeed in a class room – and on top of that, Mrs. Grant insisted that I lie down on my towel and take a nap every day.

One day she asked me if I would rather stand out in the hall while the other kids took their naps, and I’m sure I said no – but she insisted. Actually, I enjoyed the hall though, because there was always something going on out there, and people would walk by and say hello to me. Once in a while there was even another class mate standing out there with me.

I spent my grade school years growing up at Ott and made many lifelong friends. But I was probably not a very good student, because I had a tendency to daydream an awful lot when I should have been paying attention. My first grade was not too impressive, but I did enjoy reading about the adventures of Dick & Jane.

I had Miss Landseadle in the second grade and she was a typical old-maid school teacher straight out of the comic books. She wore her hair up on her head in a bun everyday, and was very good at pointing her finger at me every time I wasn’t co-operating. I remember a very long and crooked finger.

My 3rd grade teacher was Pauline Henning, the sister of Hollywood writer and director, Paul Henning, the creator of the Beverly Hillbillies, Green Acres and Petticoat Junction. My mother and Paul Henning went through school together, as they were neighbors. The Henning children grew up near 23rd and 291 Highway.

One day during penmanship class, Ms. Henning walked by my desk and told me that I had the prettiest handwriting of any child she had ever taught in her class rooms, and if I kept applying myself, I could become a professional. Those words of encouragement apparently left quite an impression on me, because, not only do I remember her words to this day, but I have actually made a living with my handwriting from time to time.

Forth grade was a bummer, but my 5th grade teacher was Mrs. Johnson. Her husband lived and worked in Australia. She lived here in Independence, and he lived in Australia, which I thought was odd, but we learned a lot about Australia that year with all of their odd little animals, such as the kangaroo, the platypus, and the Koala bear. She kept us all excited about her husband's upcoming Christmas visit, and sure enough, come Christmas time he showed up in our classroom and we learned even more about Australia.

Sixth grade was not too eventful, but I did get to watch with great interest as they built the first wing of the current William Chrisman High School.

Ted W. Stillwell is available to speak before any club, church, civic, senior, or school groups.

-- To reach Ted W. Stillwell, send an email to or call him at 816-896-3592.