The other day I ran into my fourth grade school teacher, Mr. Ray, who is now in his 90s. He told me he grew up in a Catholic grade school back East. He seemed tickled to death to see me and drew me into a conversation that I will probably never forget.

“What was that like going to a Catholic grade school back in those days?” I asked.

He said he had to stand up before the class one day and give an oral book report. He started his review with, “That millionaire character was a real typhoon.”

“You mean tycoon,” interrupted Sister Grace, his teacher. “A typhoon is a wind storm. However, I must admit your point is well taken, young man.”

“Sister Grace,” he said, “was a typical nun back in her day with a ruler and a whack on your knuckles. She stood only 4 feet 10 and weighing all of 86 pounds, but showed no mercy when it came to learning.”

When my mother informed Sister Grace, “My son loves you,” Sister Grace countered with, “I’d rather have him hate me with a passion and do his homework on time.”

“Sister was stern, but she was kind. Once when I hesitated about going to the chalk board to solve a difficult math problem, she made me stay after school. After class I explained that I was embarrassed because I had patches on the seat of my britches.”

“Rubbish,” Sister said. “I’d have been proud of you if you had done the problem!”

“Sister Grace specialized in fair play. I remember one day our gray-haired old newspaper delivery guy walked across the playground when all of the children started taunting him. Sister headed him off and asked him to appear before our student assembly later that afternoon.”

On stage she stood up beside him and announced, “This hardworking gentleman has been our news delivery guy for two months now and is doing an excellent job! I’m proud to call Howie my friend!”

“One by one, students rose to applaud,” Ray said. “Later we flocked to shake his hand. Without knowing it, we took a giant step toward maturity that day.”

“Religious discrimination was common back in those years, before World War II. Those of us applying for caddie jobs at the local country club lost out if we put ‘Catholic’ on the line marked religion. So Sister Grace advised us to write ‘First Church of Christ’ instead.”

“You certainly would not be lying!” she advised.

“Sister had a sense of humor also. When she learned that my nickname was ‘Speedy,’she tried awful hard not to crack a smile, but she did.”

“Why, if you were moving any slower mister,” she sputtered out of a weak snicker, “you would be standing still. In class you only have two speeds – slow and reverse.”

“When Sister Grace turned serious, her words of wisdom rang true. ‘A successful life is a succession of successful days,’ she reminded us. ‘Always feel good about yourself, and don’t waste time thinking about things that can’t be changed.’”

“‘Forget your mistakes. Just try to do better next time. Love, luck, laughter, caring and sharing are the ingredients for a productive, rewarding life.’”

“Years later,” Ray said, “when I became a teacher, I found myself mimicking Sister Grace. I would call my fourth graders ‘the cream of the crop’ or shout, ‘Good paper, George…I’m impressed!’ or ‘You have beautiful handwriting. Jill!”

“I would interrupt lessons just like Sister Grace did, exclaiming, ‘I’m really proud of my great class. I even put up a poster in class that read, ‘Everybody is Somebody.”

You know, I can remember that poster to this day!

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