Readers share impact teachers had on their lives

With local schools out for the summer, it’s a time for looking back.

Youngsters remember their favorite classes and fun with their friends during the past year. New graduates add up the memories from 13 years of schooling as they take their next steps in life.

Even older adults think back to their own school days.

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The Daily Journal asked people about those reminisces, wondering about the teachers who made an impact in their lives. They inspired a love of learning, or helped make sense of a difficult time in life.

Some were just plain entertaining.

The following are some of the answers we received from the community. Regardless of how they made a difference, these teachers have left an imprint on these readers’ lives, and surely the lives of countless other former students.

Jack Densford, Franklin

Starting at a new school is always a stressful situation for a student.

When Jack Densford entered Whiteland Community High School in 1969, he was beginning his sophomore year. The transition was difficult and anxiety-filled, he said.

But one teacher provided him with a tool that helped him deal with his struggles.

“My sophomore English teacher, Jackie Lane, was my favorite teacher, because once a week, she allowed us to write about whatever we wanted — no matter how personal. Sort of like a journal,” he said. “For a 16-year-old to have that outlet, knowing it would be kept confidential, was a wonderful emotional release.”

Lane was also excellent at teaching grammar, which Densford still very much appreciates. He went on to graduate from Whiteland in 1972.

Having the freedom to write whatever he wanted — rather than be stuck in a rigid prompt or assignment — is an action that has remained with Densford all of his life.

“I’ve never forgotten how much that helped me acclimate to a completely new and different environment,” he said.

Jeff Beck, Bargersville

The look was well known in the hallways of Center Grove Elementary.

Glasses, flattop haircut, sport coat and bow tie — you knew it was sixth-grade teacher Bill Legan coming down the hallways. But while Bargersville resident Jeff Beck still recalls his former teachers’ sense of style, he will always remember something more about Legan: his love of his students and of teaching.

“He’s just a really good guy, and a great teacher,” Beck said.

Legan was a Johnson County native, having graduated from Franklin High School as well as from Franklin College, where he earned his teaching degree. Center Grove Elementary was his first teaching job after receiving his degree.

Beck had Legan as a teacher in 1961. He described him as a strict teacher who gave respect with fairness. At the same time, he earned respect from both the students and Center Grove staff.

After five years, Legan was hired by Franklin Community Schools to teach. He lived in the community for 47 years, until he and his wife moved to West Virginia, where he continued teaching.

Still, he maintains regular contact with former students and his classmates from Franklin. He is a regular attendee at monthly luncheons for his old classmates, and trades e-mails with them.

He often contacts Beck to see how some of his former students from Center Grove are fairing. Through his teaching style, and later through his friendship, Legan is an inspiration, Beck said.

“I was told once to always say ‘thank you,’ ‘I’m sorry,’ ‘I love you’ and to make sure your life is right with the Lord. Mr. Legan has done those things throughout his life,” he said. “I am very proud to call him my sixth grade teacher. Mr. Bill Legan is a friend who can be counted on during life’s journey.”

David Sever, Franklin

From a student to an educator himself, David Sever points to a number of people who had an impact on his life. His music teacher in elementary school was also his own piano teacher, and instilled in him a love of classical music. The first principal he had when he became a teacher himself, John Tressler, mentored Sever and encouraged his pursuit of higher leadership positions.

But none of them could match the impact of his own father, Kenneth.

“He always developed good relationships with his students, and that was one of the most important aspects that I took from him,” Sever said. “From those relationships, then comes respect, which works both ways.”

From watching his father dedicate his life to education, Sever learned countless valuable lessons about teaching, as well as the dynamics between teachers and administrators.

His father was often critical of the administrators, and when Sever became principal and later assistant superintendent for Franklin Community Schools, he remembered some of those criticisms and tried to include that perspective when making decisions.

“He was very focused on teaching and learning, and kind of got irritated by disruptions, when students were taken out of class or class was interrupted,” he said. “I tried to always remember that as I moved into the principalship and central office. How would Dad feel about this?”

Kenneth Sever was a teacher for nearly 40 years. He was his son’s senior English and speech teacher, and throughout his time as a student, David Sever was in the same building where he taught.

“It was hard for me to get away from him,” David Sever said, laughing.

His father’s influence is clear in David Sever’s own life. But he continues to be astounded by former classmates and other students who had him as a teacher who point to that same impact.

“Through the years, he’s had such a great reputation. I recently ran into somebody who said my dad was the best teacher they ever had,” David Sever said. “So I was honored and privileged to be in his class and learn from him.”

Joyce Long, Greenwood

Going into her first day of school, Joyce Long didn’t know what to expect.

In 1960, when Long started school, there was no kindergarten. First grade was where everyone started their educational journeys. The newness of the situation was intimidating.

Nona Sapp was Long’s first grade teacher at Bloomfield Elementary School. Very quickly, she made an impression.

“She took an interest in me, and I felt like I was a special person in class,” Long said. “That stayed with me for my entire education career. When you find a teacher who sees your potential, even as a scared 6-year-old, that sticks.”

Long was only in Sapp’s class for one year. But the confidence she helped instill laid the foundation for Long’s academic success throughout her life.

When she graduated from high school 11 years later, Long was the salutatorian of her class. One day in the mail, she received a handwritten note from her old first-grade teacher.

Sapp wanted to let her former student know that she had followed her education, and that she was proud of me.

“That was very special to me,” she said. “She started my educational career.”