A fond farewell to a teacher, mentor

Guest Column

By Don White
Contributing Columnist

As many of you know, I love writing about the good old days. Back in November my wife and I went back to my home town of Peoria. In fact we made two day trips. Each one was full of reminiscing with family and friends. The first trip was to visit my 91–year-old mother. My niece joined us for lunch and we had a wonderful time.

The second trip started out as a sad journey, but ended up filled with hugs, smiles, tears and fellowship, all in celebration of the wonderful life of a very good man. On Nov. 27 I received a call from my high school classmate, Jerry Ross, with the news that our high school coach and history teacher, Edward Herzog, had passed-away earlier that day.

Jerry and I knew that Edward had been seriously ill and we were anxious for his health. The day before Helen and I made our first trip to Peoria, I called to ask Mrs. Herzog if we could stop by for a short visit. She said no, that Mr. Herzog was not up to it. After talking for a while, I knew his time was short but was still shocked to learn of his passing. As soon as we found out when the visitation and service would be we made plans for the second trip to Peoria.

I first met Mr. Herzog in the fall of 1953 as we both began our first year at the brand new Limestone Community High School in Bartonville. Mr. Herzog was a history teacher and the freshman-sophomore basketball coach. I came in as a sophomore after attending my first nine years in the Peoria school system.

After serving in the Navy during World War II, Mr. Herzog received a bachelor's degree from Bradley University and a master's degree from the University of Illinois. He taught and coached at Bellevue Grade School before coming to Limestone.

I was privileged to have him as a history teacher and basketball coach. During my sophomore year, many of my classmates made the varsity team which allowed me to be-come a starter on the freshman-sophomore team. Our team played the first game in the new gym, which we won. The team finished the season with a 17-6 record.

In the spring of 1954, Mr. and Mrs. Herzog had a picnic for the team. This was the first time I remember meeting Mrs. Herzog and their two small children, Mark and Susan - Lori came later. Those early years at Limestone were filled with fun times.

When you have a teacher the likes of Mr. Herzog you don't always realize at the time that you are being taught things other than the lesson of the day. Likewise, as my basketball coach, I did not realize that he was teaching me much more than how to win the game.

Mr. Herzog broadened my love of history to a passion that has stayed with me until this very day. In the acknowledgment section of my book, I say, "To Mr. Endsley and Mr. Herzog, thank you for planting those seeds of learning, oh so many years ago." (Mr. Endsley was my typing teacher.)

Also during the first school year Mr. Herzog was the freshmen class advisor and Helen McCabe, my future wife, was a freshman class officer. I did not know anything yet about Miss McCabe. Not until my senior year did we finally meet and fall in love.

As the basketball team traveled around the state to represent our school, Mr. Herzog reminded us many times that we were ambassadors of the school. Wherever we went he expected us at all times to conduct ourselves accordingly. As I recall those days many years ago, I don't believe we ever let coach down. Many times when we traveled a distance for a game, we stopped at an upscale restaurant for dinner. Well, upscale for me anyway. (Not many fast-food establishments back then.)

After graduation in 1956, I still attended many of the games. As you may recall, I had a vested interest in a senior student by the name of Helen McCabe. After we were married in 1957 and after we moved to the Chicago area in 1967 we did not see much of Mr. Herzog.

He stayed on at Limestone for about 10 years, later becoming head basketball coach. He then took a job with the Hinsdale high school district where he remained for 20 years. Throughout most of this period we had little or no contact with Mr. and Mrs. Herzog. It was not until sometime in the 1990s when we began attending homecoming games and class reunions that we saw them again.

Whenever we saw Mr. Herzog, we would shake hands and hug, then he would say, "hello Donnie." (He is one of five people that still called me that.) It was amazing that he remembered so many of us after so many years. We always took time to talk about the good times we shared at Limestone. The last time we had seen Mr. and Mrs. Herzog was at our 55th class reunion in September 2011.

We made the second trip to Peoria on Friday, Nov. 30, this time to say farewell to coach. Anytime you attend a funeral service, it is a sorrowful time. Many times you don't know what to say to the family. You pay your respects and attempt to say a few kind words to the family before the service begins.

That is the way this service began. The pastor, Dean Reeverts, talked some about Mr. Herzog's life. A few verses of scripture were read and the usual hymns were played. Then the tone changed as Mr. Herzog's Aunt Ruth, who was playing the organ, played a few lively tunes such as "Bill Baily won't you please come home?" - that was one of his favorites. The pastor then asked if anyone might have a story about Mr. Herzog to share.

Some family members spoke, then some of those who had worked with Mr. Herzog over the years and some that were his students had some tales to tell. We were all laughing and crying and realized more than ever just what a wonderful man Mr. Herzog was. As we left the service we all felt it was our privilege to have known him.

The service was a celebration of the life of a man who worked in the field of education for nearly 40 years. Think of the lives he touched and the encouragement he gave to so many young minds. Those of us who were fortunate enough to have him for a teacher or coach were blessed to have someone who cared about us. Not just about how well we did in class or how many games we won or points we scored.

Mr. Herzog was someone that I looked up to as my teacher and coach. Well, yes, I did literally look up to him as he was 6 foot 5 inches tall and I am 5 foot 6 inches tall. But you know what I mean. He gave me the gift of self-confidence that I have carried with me all of my adult life.

We should all take the take time to stop and think about a teacher, coach or mentor that may have influenced our lives. If that person are still around, please take time to let him or her know just how much you appreciate them.

Rest in Peace Coach Herzog.

Don White is a resident of Palos Hills.