In discussing the deaths of my parents I've mentioned that people who pour themselves into one small community or local cause "deserve" more recognition from the world at large than they often get. I realize that applying this principle fully would mean talking about billions of people who have lived worthy lives. But since another example has just come up I will mention it.

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I hear from hometown friends that John Solter, of Redlands, California, has just died at age 75 of kidney failure. As is the case when former students think of their former teachers, he will always be "Mr. Solter" to me -- even though I see from the remarkable obituary in the Redlands Daily Facts that he was still in his 20s when he taught my 8th grade speech class at Cope Jr. High. To me he was a sunny, brassy, somewhat hammy figure, in what we'd now think of as a classic 1960s Southern California way. Maybe even like Monty Hall, of Let's Make a Deal. He was always chastising students in mock, kidding outrage; addressing the class as "you hamburgers"; reeling off wisecracks -- but meanwhile doing a very good job of conveying the essentials not simply of stand-up performance before an audience but also of argumentative organization and logic. He and my high school speech/ debate teacher, Gertrude Baccus, hammered into me the outline-style Point 1- 2- 3 mode of thinking that for better and worse marks me to this day.

What I hadn't guessed before reading the obituary was that his super-confident, breezy cool-cat manner masked (as with Joe Biden) his own previous struggle with speech impediments:

As a youngster, John had a severe stutter. He was plagued by criticism from his peers and some teachers who forced him to speak or who told him he would only be able to find a job where he could "work with his hands."...

In September 1961, John began teaching speech and drama... the very subject that had been his life nemesis. He had empathy and compassion for those students who were afraid to speak before a group, and the paths of many young people changed positively as a result of his teaching techniques. One illustration is the young woman who was too frightened to speak in front of the class [whom he allowed] to speak to the class from the back of the room. The young woman gained confidence through this technique and went on to become the senior class Valedictorian at Redlands High School.

Half a dozen teachers in my public-school career made a big and positive difference in my life. Mr. Solter was one of them. His obituary provides details of family struggles that are worth reflecting on during current economic hard times. Eg:
His father [a railroad worker] was 53 when John was born and had lost a leg in a railroad accident around 1900. He had difficulty walking with a heavy wooden leg and, being an older father, he was often mistaken as John's grandfather. Because neither parent drove a car, John received his driver's license at age 13.
Another good person whose life deserves recognition. I won't go on to mention everyone I've known and respected, but I didn't want to let this moment pass unremarked. 
(Photo from InstantRiverside.com)

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