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Quintet of English Teachers: 1970 to 2000

By: Stephen Reed

If you went to Northwood for even one year between the mid-70s and Year 2K, it is highly likely that you took English from one of a quintet of teachers who each taught here for at least fifteen years.  Mike Hannan, John Kluge, and I worked together in the years between 1973 and 1989. Don Mellor joined us in 1977; Bev Stellges, in 1984. Our personalities, literary preferences, and teaching styles were disparate, but we were greatly interested in and respected each other’s strengths. Over the decades, my students have heard me insist that literature only matters insofar as it gives us insight into what it means to be human, a slightly different way of phrasing Mike’s relentless emphasis on “the human condition.” From Bev, I did my best to learn the virtues of patience and consistent encouragement, from Klugie, the skill of initiating a stimulating student-driven discussion of the big philosophical issues, from Don Mellor, the art of keeping the students engaged through wordplay and humor.  I suspect that we were more teacher-centric than is fashionable today, but what radial points my friends were. In my frequent contacts with alumni, their names come up frequently. Since one element of my current job is to jog alumni memories of their years here, I thought it was a good time to pay tribute to my former colleagues.

Back in the 70s, the yearbook staff wrote paragraphs on each instructor for our yearbook, The Epitome. Their thoughts captured our essence with originality, wit, and insight. It is no surprise that the focus was as much on our quirky personalities as on our teaching.  For instance, in 1977, one wrote this free association piece about Mike Hannan: “Great moments in American Literature, editions 1, 2, and 3 … a jack of all trades: bartender, dishwasher, welfare investigator, and teacher, of course…how did he cram Margaret Atwood’s Surfing in 3 days before the midyear… his well-intentioned jokes (who can laugh the first period?)…if you get a B, you know you’ve earned it…he runs, climbs…why does he always read books no one else reads?… as the new assistant headmaster, his door is always open, and his advice is always helpful.” Mike was the first of us to work at Northwood, arriving in 1968 as a French instructor and joining the English department a few years later. He left Northwood in 1988 to become an educational administrator, eventually Head at two schools. Upon retirement, he and his wife Gloria moved to Florida, where he has written several novels in his “Beyond Good and Evil” series (available on Amazon). His works illustrate the depth and originality of his substantial intellect. 

I was the next to arrive in 1971. Though the yearbook misspelled my name, they were relatively generous to me, despite some snarky wordplay: “During any hour of the day, one may hear the boisterous, Boston-accented voice or the clear chortling of Reno.  Object of satire…or is it subject of satire…or is it teacher of satire? In any event, English teacher, statistician, mathematician, philosopher Master of Ceremonies at SATs. Reno is as dramatic in class as one of Gatsby’s parties. At any football game, one may hear the booming lungs or catch a glimpse of this coach’s body jumping in mid-air as Northwood scores a touchdown. Reno adds warmth and weight to Northwood’s faculty.” A little less weight these days, but still delighting in satirizing and being satirized. I supplement my work in our alumni office by serving on the boards of North Country Community College and the Deo Coburn Foundation. 

John Kluge arrived in 1973 from Haverford. I assisted Headmaster John Friedlander in selecting the new English teacher that year. I remember reading a recommendation from one of his professors called him the brightest student he had taught. With due respect to all the fine teachers we have had, I believe John was the most talented, engaging English teacher I have observed anywhere. He generated curiosity and excitement about everything from the simple prose of The Sun Also Rises to a dense essay by Kant on the categorical imperative. His students were a bit awed by him as this description indicates: “John Kluge, teacher, advisor, counselor, and to many, the cynic. But he is much more than that, at least to those who listen to him. The essence of his class is not grammar; it is getting familiar with yourself. John Kluge is simple, yet complex; he is placid yet torrid… it is certainly easier to learn from him than to figure him out.” Since 1989, Klugie has been a teacher, department chair, and academic dean at Kimball Union, whose prep school he graduated from.  Over the years, I have been lucky to have received occasional letters from him – both witty and wise. He has recently served as the Chair of the Board of Selectmen in Enfield, New Hampshire.

A Northwood graduate, Don Mellor arrived in 1977 and taught here until 2020. He was accomplished in the classroom and one of the best-known American rock and ice climbers and a prolific author of guides to routes and reflections on climbing. More than anyone else from our group, he mastered the art of making grammar comprehensible and making writing more of an adventure than a chore. Students always stayed alert so they wouldn’t miss his witty, pointed humor. As the 1978 yearbook suggests, even in his first year, he made an impact on students’ lives in a variety of ways: “Almost young enough to be one of us, Mr. Don Mellor returns to Northwood to share his ideas. A Northwood graduate, Mr. Mellor has involved himself in all aspects of the school. Whether he’s rock climbing, building igloos, or organizing an alumni meeting, we know he always has time to listen to a problem. Mr. Mellor has become a vital part of Northwood. We hope he will be staying.” He did – for thirty-three years; he is no longer teaching, but he remains a vital presence in our students’ connection to the Adirondacks through his work with the outing club. 

Bev Stellges arrived last, in 1983. We didn’t have a fully staffed learning center in those days, so Bev was a one-woman show. She taught freshman and sophomores in our unique S.E.L.C.  (Supplementary English Learning Course) program, designed to help students hone reading, writing, and study skills. She worked closely with those of us teaching the traditional courses at those levels, making sure her work complemented our study units. She helped guide hundreds of students during their first years here to optimal achievement. The only woman in our group, her warmth and compassion, and consistent good humor radiated in every class.  Now retired, Bev is well known as a talented quilter. 

“Think where man’s glory most begins and ends/ And say that my glory was I had such friends.” (Yeats)