Reno’ s Northwood Faculty Hall of Fame
In my fifty years of teaching at Northwood, I have been fortunate to have had some extraordinary colleagues. Since my current job offers me a platform on which I may wax nostalgic about the best that Northwood has had to offer, I decided to create my own personal Hall of Fame to honor teachers who served Northwood with distinction for at least a decade. My first two include veterans from my early years: Ellsworth Jackstadt and Harry Fife. Each made our students happier through energetic participation in a variety of activities beyond the classroom, daily doses of wit and positivity, and an unfeigned concern for the well-being of all.
Yockie, as Ellsworth Jackstadt was known, taught Algebra and was Chair of the Math Department. I remember well all the sage guidance he gave me as I stumbled my way through teaching Algebra in my first year here. He taught me how to communicate complexities in simple terms. When the Class of ’75 dedicated the yearbook to him, the caption for his photograph was “Master of Mathematics, Merriment and Mirth.” In 1970, the yearbook staff wrote, “Yock finds his greatest rapport with the younger students. This is readily evident during free time when Yock acts as the Pied Piper leading four or five raucous underclassmen through the school haggling with him to trade wrist watches or bet pints of ice cream on sports events, while some chatter on just to be part of the parade. He is, in truth, a man set in a certain way, but completely willing to change when new ideas would make a better school, a more interesting canoe trip or mountain ascent, a more worthwhile math course, or virtually any matter directly pertinent to Northwood.”
I don’t know of another teacher who put more smiles on students’ faces or put more hours of extra help into ensuring every kid’s success in Algebra. It was fortunate that when the first girls arrived in 1971, he and his wife, Ginny, offered their own warm and loving boarding quarters overtown. No one contributed more toward making sure our first group of young women had the best experience possible. Yockie was often unconventional, but always cheerful, empathetic, ready for fun and determined that Northwood be a real home for our students.
My next inductee, the brilliant, quirky Harry Fife, was, as one yearbook described him, “… a breed apart, but with the very best connotation, a generation removed, one to whom an active physical life, with all its concomitant hardships, is still tantamount to personal fulfillment. This philosophy, coupled with his belief that factual knowledge provides the tools with which to tackle the abstract concept, and without which the searchings of a young mind are aimless, make this man a most necessary part of a Northwood education. … Each of his contacts with the physical world, as shown to a boy through the eyes of ‘Uncle Harry’ has served to nurture bonds with nature. The classroom is another matter altogether, and it is here that the occasionally discordant noise of learning takes place, which will in time become the sweetest music of all.”
When students tell tales of their time with Harry, it is sometimes difficult to sort out reality from myth. I have heard tales of his jumping up on his desk and tap dancing in frustration with a class’s inability to grasp a key concept and of his once driving the school bus over the thick ice of Lake Champlain to save time getting back to school after a ski trip. His love for his pupils is perhaps best exemplified in his remark to a graduating senior’s parents: “Finally, after four years of teaching, yelling, worrying, cajoling, and occasionally doctoring, we’ve got a boy to where he’s just about tolerable, and he ups and leaves us.”
Harry’s eccentricities made him memorable and impactful. A phrase from a poem comes to mind: Harry was the sort of teacher who would “burn the papers and correct the leaves.” No one who took chemistry with him will forget his vitality and commitment as he taught his students the joy of thought and their duty to be exactly what they want to be.