Little Johnny was a bad boy. In the third grade at Elm Grove District Number 4 Country School, Northwest of Fairfield (Batavia) in the 1950s, he hated school and was a discipline problem. Johnny would have rather been anywhere except sitting in that stuffy, one-room school, like riding his horse, searching for crawdads, or playing with his dog. If there was one thing he couldn’t stand, it was some of the other kids who knew it all. They had to have their hands up all the time. Consequently, Johnny was a bully.
Druzilla Clark, the teacher at Elm Grove, was in a quandary. She knew that if she complained about Johnny’s behavior to the superintendent, expulsion might be the result, which wouldn’t benefit anyone. She could see a little gleam in Johnny’s eye, and decided that she would try to work with him.
She began by helping Johnny read. Reading is the key to all learning, and if she could get Johnny reading, he would have a chance in the world. She kept him after school and patiently worked on his reading skills. One advantage she had: Johnny liked her. His reading began to improve slowly. Then it was penmanship, spelling and math. “Johnny,” she would say, “if you have three catfish, two bullheads, and a frog, how many fish do you have?”
Johnny knew the answer, he just couldn’t say it. Slowly, very slowly, Druzilla began coaxing answers out of him. Johnny stopped bullying the other kids, and even held his hand up occasionally.
Johnny kept in contact with Druzilla through school at Cardinal of Eldon and Fairfield. “Johnny,” she would ask, “what do you want to be? You can be anything you want you know, if you work for it.”
Johnny did. He graduated in the upper half of his class at Fairfield, and went on to college. After college he became a very successful businessman. He never forgot the help and encouragement that he received from Druzilla Clark, a very special teacher, and kept in contact with her. When he learned that her health was failing, he told her that he wanted to do something special in her name. After all, he owed his success to her.
Johnny, whose real name remains anonymous, set up a foundation, The Druzilla F. Clark Educators Foundation, that he funds. The foundation gives $2,000 to first year teachers in Fairfield and Cardinal of Eldon. It also gives $2,000 to the teacher of the year in both schools. Ralph Messerli, a former principal and coach in Fairfield, another influential educator to the donor, is the DFC President. Linda Messerli is the executive secretary; Linda Booth, the secretary/treasurer; and Gloria Countryman, the public relations and event coordinator. Since its inception four years ago, the foundation will have given away approximately $180,000 by the end of this year to first year teachers and teachers of the year. (In one year alone, there were 16 new teachers between the two schools.) It’s first year teachers who are usually struggling financially because of student loans and trying to get started. One recipient used part of the money to buy material for students. Another wants to make the same impact on students as Druzilla Clark. Admirable goal.
The Elm Grove Country School was moved to the Jefferson County Fairgrounds. Each year an awards ceremony is held at the school, followed by dinner at the country club. If you had a favorite teacher who touched and changed your life, tax deductible contributions can be made to the DFClark Foundation. They will be matched dollar for dollar by the anonymous donor. Information regarding contributions, testimonials, dedications, comments and current events may be found at dfclarkfoundation.org. It is a 501(c) (3) corporation.
Don’t ask who the donor is, the board members, even if they know, won’t tell you.
Have a good story? Call or text Curt Swarm in Mt. Pleasant at 319-217-0526, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit his website at www.empty-nest-words-photos-and-frames.com.