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Message from the Chair
The Power of One
Submitted by: Sarah Bauder, Tristate Chair 2006-2007
My father was born in Yugoslavia in 1932 to a Serbian father and a Croatian mother. Yugoslavia now no longer exists, having recently become Serbia. However, at the time of my father's birth, it was characterized by its bitter ethnic conflicts between the Serbs and the Croats. As many of you know, the conflict was the result of various underlying political, economic and cultural problems, as well as long-standing ethnic and religious tensions. As tensions increased between the Serbs and Croats, my grandparents saw their future diminishing and made the decision to leave their home and country to move to the land of opportunity, the United States of America. My grandmother and father, Peter, age six, ported in Philadelphia in 1938 without my grandfather, who died of pneumonia while en route. After working in Philadelphia for a few months, my grandmother, Vita Alecxih, traveled her way to Bethlehem, Pennsylvania where she met and eventually married the only grandfather I knew, Red Shenk.
Grandpa Red came from a hard working class, blue collar, family who labored in the steel mills in Bethlehem, PA for as many generations as he could remember. Since this was his culture and the only world he knew, his 'son' Peter was going to do the same. Red would take Peter with him to the mills and teach him through experience. I remember Grandpa Red as a strong willed individual, with few words. He was not inclined to listen to other viewpoints; and, every time my father talked about school or college, he was discouraged. My father's future was the steel mills.
It was not until my father reached the eleventh grade that his life changed. A literature teacher found potential in him and persistently encouraged him to apply for college. Behind the scenes, he went so far as to assist in the completion of paperwork and contacted congressman for a nomination into the U.S. Naval Academy. In 1949, my father entered the Naval Academy, having graduated valedictorian of his high school class and being fluent in four languages. He met my mother in his senior year at a Christmas party and "fell in love with her eyes on the first date" (I'm guessing the love for the other parts came later). They married two days after he graduated from the Academy and now have seven children. Today, my father has a Master's degree in Thermodynamics and a Doctorate in Communication and Counseling from George Washington University. His seven children have all earned, at minimum, a bachelors degree. Each of those seven children has had three children (that's 21 grandchildren). Of those who have graduated from high school, all have gone onto college. Think about that: one literature professor's persistence and understanding of the value of a degree, changed the life for 23 people (so far).
I tell you this, because our work in education affects so many. It is easy to underestimate the value of what we do since we, like my father's high school teacher, will rarely see the long term positive impact. However, if we find just one person to mentor, we will make a difference.
I hope you all had a relaxing holiday season and wish you the best for a wonderful 2007.