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A classic problem in trigonometry requests, "Given the length of the shadow that a flagpole casts and angle of inclination that the sun makes with the horizon, compute the height of the flagpole."
The late Mr. Allen Kramer taught me to solve that problem. Given his slight build and average height, his physical shadow was never long. His academic shadow, however, well beyond his horizon.
I was fortunate to have had Mr. Kramer as my teacher for three different courses during my secondary education at Tell City High School. He instilled a love of science and mathematics and an insatiable thirst for knowledge. More importantly, he fostered my vocation to teach.
Today, the value of teaching is often diminished while the quest for physical accomplishment and financial success is lauded.
Time eventually deteriorates even our most magnificent structures while recent history questions the myopic greed driving the incessant desire for more wealth. On the other hand, the value of teaching only increases.
Mr. Kramer taught thousands, one of whom was me. As a professor at a major university, I sometimes had an opportunity to teach several hundred students in a single course. Yet I was only one of his students. One can only guess how many former students were inspired to teach by his example. Recently, I talked to another high-school teacher who credited Mr. Kramer for fostering his decision to teach mathematics even though he never attended Tell City High.
Since graduating from TCHS in 1966, I had only visited with Mr. Kramer a few times. A few years ago, I shared lunch with him and his wife, Sandy.
During subsequent visits to Tell City, I often thought about visiting him and Sandy again, but presumably more urgent matters always intervened. This was particularly true after my father was placed in long-term care nearly two years ago. A few months ago, I was shocked when my mother related that Mr. Kramer had been placed in the same facility as my father.
Two of the most important male figures in my life were now residing along the same corridor, though neither recognized each other. Both were suffering from different forms of a terrible disease that ravages one's memory. It was here that I truly realized how much Mr. Kramer valued our friendship. During one of my brother's daily visits to our dad, he shouted my name from across the room.
My brother, Kevin, who also was taught by Mr. Kramer, introduced himself to Mr. Kramer and stated that I would visit him soon. A couple of weeks later, I hastened home to visit my father and him. Unfortunately, his memory had been further eroded even in those few short weeks.
I was not sure that he recognized me when I first approached him as he sat next to a nurse's desk. Nevertheless, I attempted to recollect the past with him. I told the nurse that he taught me in three courses and discussed his impact upon my career. As I acknowledged his outstanding talents as a teacher, a smile crossed his face. He was proud of his accomplishments as an educator.
Mr. Kramer no longer casts a shadow upon this earth. His life was far too short, and he is certainly missed. Nevertheless, his contributions live on even though many who implicitly have already or will have benefited from his efforts will never know him.
Even this very day, one of my former students has requested that I write a letter of recommendation for her admission to a graduate program in engineering education. I was able to teach her because Mr. Kramer had taught me. Hopefully, tomorrow she will be able to teach others, some of who will also teach. Such are the ever-increasing accomplishments of a great teacher and extraordinary person.
Wayne J. Davis, Ph.D., is professor emeritus of industrial and enterprise systems engineering at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.