On the Road With Readak, Part I
Since arriving in New Orleans in the late summer of 1974 to begin my Readak training, my life had been undergoing a process of radical change. Although my sojourn as a graduate student ended on a rocky note, I was nevertheless leaving behind the comforts and attractions of academic life—a stimulating environment, decent and stable housing, friends and colleagues, a modicum of status-- to become a peripatetic speed reading teacher. Instead of working to foster the careful study of literary works and teaching composition, I would have two simpler goals. as a Readak teacher: revving up the reading speed of my junior and senior high students and maximizing their comprehension levels. Goodbye to The Odyssey, The Death of a Salesman, compelling novels, weekly essays, and term papers. Hello to Reader’s Digest excerpts, similar factual material, and the strange new world of teenage education. All in all, the new job was pretty much at odds with the life I had been living at Auburn, and the career I had envisioned years before. The one thing I knew for certain as I lighted out for the territories was that the Readak method worked. As a by-product of learning how to teach the course, I had achieved impressive gains in my reading speed and information retention. Those unexpected results surprised and pleased me.
In September of 1973, for my first Readak assignment, I was posted to Riverside Military Academy in Gainesville, GA. Although enrollment at military schools declined in the 1970s because of a national anti-war climate, Riverside continued to thrive. It seemed particularly favored by upper-level military officers, political officials, and bureaucrats in some of the countries of Central and South America, who sent their sons to Riverside because of its solid reputation and facilities. It served as a kind of martial finishing school for some, as well as being the time-honored option for boys who needed or thrived in a more disciplined environment. There had been only one other male in my Readak training class, and since I was the only one of us with military experience (as a personnel clerk!), sending me to Georgia must have seemed like a no-brainer for the company director in New Orleans.
When I arrived in Gainesville, which is about 50 miles NE of Atlanta, I checked into a motel, and then contacted Colonel McGinnis, the superintendent of the school. Readak instructors had taught there in preceding years, and he proved to be a valuable guide to getting me started. His friendly manner calmed part of my anxiety over the new job and responsibilities. He turned over the fees that had been collected and the roster of cadets that had signed up for the course (most of them surely at the urging of their parents). Then he took me on a brief tour of the school, showed me where I would be teaching, and presented me with the schedule that had been arranged for my sessions.
I usually stayed at a school for about six weeks, with a couple of free days tacked on at the beginning to get things rolling business-wise. The wrap-up on each school—grading the final tests and preparing short assessment letters for the parents-- had to be done on the fly, in motel rooms on the way to the next assignment.
One of the most meaningful benefits of being a vagabond teacher was what traveling opened up for me: seeing new parts of the country and meeting the people there. I was casting off one kind of educational experience and entering into a very different one. I had little idea of what lay in store for me and what it would all come to mean.
One of the downsides to being on the road was always the initial concern about housing. I only resided for a limited time in each city, so finding suitable and affordable quarters could be an iffy matter. This time, since I was the new boy in town in every way, I asked Colonel McGinnis for suggestions. “Well, I bet you could find a room at the Dixie Hunt Hotel.”
Like Huntsville, the commercial center of Gainesville had shifted over the years. A mall had been built beside Lake Lanier, and downtown Gainesville was fading. The Dixie Hunt, constructed originally in 1882, and then restored and modernized after it sustained damage in a tornado in 1936, stood near the town square. It had been spruced-up since 1936, but it had a retro look, and it still employed an elevator operator, a friendly young fellow with cerebral palsy. It was clean, well-kept, and the rates were good. All of that suited me just fine. From my sixth-floor room, I enjoyed an expansive view across part of the city.
Being faced with a roomful of uniformed cadets was a novel experience for me on the first day of instruction, but they were respectful and intrigued to learn how this unusual course would be conducted. Hey, me too! In a way, I became a coach. In the beginning weeks of the course, I started each class with a lecture about the concept and techniques of speed reading, and then the students would practice the methods, working to break the habits that inhibited their speed and comprehension. I even wielded a stopwatch (but not a whistle), which enabled me to time their reading. It took a week or two, but once the students noticed their improvements, they were convinced of the value of the instruction.
Because I was committed to the course, I began going back to the school in the evenings several times a week. For a variety of reasons, the students couldn’t always attend my class, and I would try to find them in the required study hall to make up the sessions. Although I always checked in with the study hall monitors, I didn’t give a thought to the fact that the news of this extra duty was being passed on. After I had moved on to the next school, I got a letter from the company director in New Orleans. He had received a complimentary letter from Colonel McGinnis, and I earned a $50 bonus for my special efforts.
Situated in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, Gainesville served as an ideal gateway to exploring the beauties of that varied landscape. I spent several autumn weekends acquainting myself with the attractions of Dahlonega, Lake Hiwassee, Amicalola Falls, Toccoa Falls, Brasstown Bald, and Tallulah Gorge (of Deliverance fame). Rootless though I was at the time, it is ironical that I was getting to know the state that would become my home for 30 years beginning in 1976.
From mock battlements and parade grounds to the historic Tidewater region of Virginia: my next assignment took me to Christchurch School, an Episcopal boarding school a few miles from Urbanna, a port village which lay on the shores of the Rappahanock River, fifty miles east of Richmond. Christchurch’s most famous alumnus was William Styron (class of ’42), who won a Pulitzer Prize for The Confessions of Nat Turner in 1968, and then later wrote Sophie’s Choice , which won the 1980 National Book Award. Lewis Puller, Jr. (class of ’63), the son of Lt. General “Chesty” Puller (one of the most decorated members of the Marine Corps), was another famous graduate. He won the Pulitzer Prize for his autobiography, Fortunate Son, in 1992.
The person who greeted me at Christchurch was the dean of students, Mr. Burgess. After a brief interview and the requisite exchange of funds and student lists, he asked me: “Would it be agreeable to you if the school furnished your room and board? All you have to pay is a small fee, mostly for the food.” Since I had already wondered about those issues, having noted Urbanna’s smallness and the predominant rural nature of the area, I readily agreed.
“Good, I’ll conduct you around the campus, show you where your classroom is, and then take you to where you’ll be living. You can drive over later and unload your car.”
Christchurch had an idyllic setting. The school, with its Georgian architecture-- reflective of the region’s colonial days--was scattered along a wooded bluff above the river. A few rowboats and sailboats were abob next to a wharf on the river. The Rappahannock was very wide at this point. Just beyond a far bend, it would spill itself into Chesapeake Bay.
After the tour, we walked toward a 3-story Georgian manor house, the headmaster’s residence. Wow! I thought; I’m going deluxe this time. Then we turned to the back of the house, and Mr. Burgess opened a door to the structure’s basement. In the dim light, we walked past the house’s heating system, some cluttered storage areas, and then came to a door. “Here it is,” he said, revealing a small room with beige walls; it was starkly furnished and came with a separate bathroom (thank God). I was somewhat nonplussed, but I knew it wouldn’t be courteous to look a gift horse in the mouth. Anyway, it was a quick and easy solution to the problem. I would make the best of the situation. Later on I would shake my head, amused as I realized how far down in the world I had plummeted in a short time—from the sixth floor straight to the basement. “How’s the view down there, Rainer?”
Comfortable with my teaching after the shakedown cruise at Riverside, I was expecting a generally smooth experience at Christchurch, and for the most part the students were friendly and amenable, ready to learn. One young woman, however, was a thorn in my side from day one. She was the daughter of the school’s wrestling coach and had obviously been coerced into the course. She couldn’t take out her anger with her father (or enough of it), so I and the “stupid Readak course” became her targets. Her acting out and intractability were hard to deal with, and she affected the other students in the class. Finally—not sure I was taking the right tack—I talked to her father. I don’t know if they exactly had a heart-to-heart talk, but she settled down in class and began to give the reading methods a fair shake. She was a reluctant convert, but she began to see that she was becoming a better reader.
Since I, too was a boarder at the school, I got a chance to know several of my students outside the classroom. I joined them at meals in the cafeteria, and I saw them, too, at basketball games or wrestling matches.
To escape the dungeon on weekends, I drove to Washington, D.C. (about 2 ½ hours away) a couple of times. Somehow I managed to find my way to the National Mall, and I toured the Hirshhorn Museum and the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum. On another trip, I drove south and spent the weekend at Williamsburg. One weekend I just checked into a quaint motel in Urbanna and ate as much seafood as I could hold at their buffet.
Two schools down, two to go. To be continued.
Note: the car pictured is not mine. I swiped it off the Internet - Grand Theft Auto. It is, however, the same model and color as my 1972 VW Squareback Station Wagon. It was the ideal vehicle for my year on the road--dependable and roomy. It held my books, turntable, amplifier, headphones, box of records (Randy Newman’s Rednecks is the only one I can remember now—but what a record!), clothes, and Readak materials. Absolute Fahrvergnügen.
Mr. Foley and the Thrown Eraser
by John Drummond
A few weeks ago Rainer commented on the joys of playing in the LHS band, and what a great Band Director we were blessed with in Mr. Foley. He also recalled that Mr. Foley was always cool and calm, with the exception of an incident one day involving a thrown blackboard eraser. I remember that day well, as my head was almost the unintended target.
In the Band Room we sat in semi-circular rows. The trumpet section was to Mr. Foley's far right. Of the three rows of trumpet players, my seat was in the second row; directly behind me, chair against the wall, sat Gary Kinkle. One thing the normally even-tempered Mr. Foley could not abide was band members talking to each other while he was addressing the group. Gary, on the other hand, had difficulty keeping his mouth closed when the music stopped. On that memorable day, after admonishing the trumpet section numerous times to keep quiet, Mr. Foley suddenly whirled toward us, yelled: "I SAID SHUT UP!" and flung a blackboard eraser, fastball-style, at Gary. Craig Kimbrel, LHS 2006 and Atlanta Braves relief pitcher, would have been proud. As the eraser was coming straight for me, I instinctively ducked, then heard a loud "POOF" as it hit the wall just above Gary's head. The Band Room instantly became deadly quiet, as a cloud of white chalk dust slowly settled over the trumpet section. When I turned around to look at Gary, his eyes had the deer-in-the-headlights look; his mouth was wide open, but for once, no sound was coming out of it.
Thanks, Rainer, for dredging up a colorful memory of LHS Band days.
Memphis, TN - Two weeks ago when John Drummond sent in the story about the death of Leslie Gore I was having some computer problems and could not include the video he requested be added to the story. The problem is now corrected and even though it is late, here is the video John wanted you to see.
Mullins Restaurant Closes
Story by Lucy Berry
From The Huntsville Times
After several decades in business, Mullins Restaurant in Huntsville has closed,
WHNT said the historic restaurant, which was sold to Nesha Sine in 2014, was locked Tuesday. Signs were posted on the door with the following messages: "Mullins will be closed the next few weeks for kitchen updates" and "Because of winter weather, Mullins will be closed Monday and Tuesday."
The restaurant and building on 607 Andrew Jackson Way have separate owners, the report said. Building owner Bill Johnston III, who is part of a group of investors who purchased the building last year, spoke with WHNT about the closure.
"The new owners of the property are unable to comment at what the future of the property is," he said. "This was all dropped on the owners of the building the same time her employees found out this week."
Former owners Larry and Brenda Mullins, who took over the Five Points restaurant in 1978, listed the property for sale with Bill Poole Realty last year.
Click here for the full WHNT story.
Parkway Lanes Bowling Alley Burns
From The Huntsville Times
Two Huntsville fire captains were burned early Saturday morning evacuating their crews from a burning bowling alley on South Memorial Parkway. The captains, who were not seriously injured, and their crews were unable to save the AMF Parkway Lanes alley at 2309 South Memorial Parkway.
Fire was still visible in the collapsed bowling alley Saturday morning, and people were stopping in parking lots on both sides of the Parkway to take pictures of the longtime Huntsville recreational institution. Police closed the northbound access road, but traffic was backed up and slow on the Parkway northbound.
The alley's owner had just invested in renovations and a new sign, firefighters said, and was poised to get more business when the Plamor Lanes closes across Memorial Parkway to make room for an expanded car dealership on April 30.
From Our Mailbox
Subject: Last Week's Bathing BeautiesGlenn James
I think the three bathing beauties are Carolyn Burgess Featheringill, Gudrun Wagner Klauss, and maybe Jeanne Ivey McBride. I think this picture may have been published in the Huntsville Times. They are at the Huntsville City Swimming Pool, also called Big Spring Pool. It was located downtown in the area where the Art Museum is now. Even when the temperature was in the high 90s, it had to be the coldest water ever, at around 50 degrees. The water was said to be coming straight from Big Spring.
Subject: Last Week's Issue and Other Things
Ann Pat King Fanning
Just want to thank you again for always keeping us in touch...
I'm sorry about your losing the planned Newsletter, but this one helped inform everyone for our Reunion this Fall. This is my first year to assist in any planning and it is quite a task - even with all of our brilliant Lee-trained brains... ;-) A lot to accomplish and make sure we don't miss anything.
I'd like to encourage others to pitch in and give us some help. Additional folks may bring a fresh idea or insight to our plans.
As for the photo - is it Sandy Shipman, Gudrun, and Carolyn Burgess? DO I win a new car? ;-)
(Editor's Note: According to Rainer "
1961 (?)--Bathing beauties beside the icy waters of Big Spring Pool, Huntsville, AL. Sandy Shipman Stilson, Gudrun Wagner Klauss, Carolyn Burgess Featheringill. All Lee High School graduates in 1965." Now contact Rainer about the car prize. He seems to know where to get ones, even if they are 1972 vintage.)