When my friend and colleague Ed Emch died a few days ago, the students and faculty of Howland High School were visibly upset. He had been our colleague, teacher, coach, mentor, friend, and "grandpa."
When recent bouts with illness forced Mr. Emch to miss work, the students informed me, upon his return he would ask, "Now, how are my grandchildren doing?" These kids knew he loved both them and his work. Clearly he was much more than a mere teacher.
I asked my upper-class students to share anecdotes to remember Mr. Emch on the first day back to school after his passing. They had so many nice to things to say all I could add was, "What a tremendous loss this man represents to his family and for all of us."
After class, a student approached me in private to confide, "I used to stay after class in Mr. Emch's room, because sometimes I get really depressed about my home life. He told me I could stay anytime I needed a safe place to talk or decompress." Again, this shows the depth and humanity of this late, great educator who was once an All-American football star.
One of my first thoughts when I heard the heart-breaking news was "What if it was me - how irreplaceable am I?" We don't really think about such things until the unthinkable happens. In a sense, we are all replaceable at work, but never within our families or amongst close friends. Still, to cope with the loss my mind needed further appreciation of my colleague and friend, and so I began to imagine what the average replacement might bring to the table versus what Ed brought to the table. The more I thought about it, the more I began to feel sorry for his replacement.
Ed Emch did not start teaching until he was 45 years (old) wise with his heart and mind already full of genuine All-American experiences. In itself, his decades of private sector work experience made him an irreplaceable teacher. Besides, Ed was the epitome of "real people." Putting this altogether, Mr. Emch was the perfect government teacher in a land governed "by the people, for the people." Who could be more qualified to teach U.S. Government than a true red-blooded American with decades of blood, sweat and tears work experience? Add to this Ed's obvious love and compassion for his students and I need not say more than irreplaceable.
How did Ed become such a great colleague, teacher, mentor, friend, and yes, "grandpa" to so many? To sum up my colleague and friend in as few words as possible, this great man approached life with equal parts of humility, love, and hard work. First of all, Ed was above average in many ways, but he never made anyone aware of it. You only heard of his successes through others.
I never knew Ed's family, but his rock-solid moral qualities likely came from home. Everybody knew Ed was a family man. He loved his family deeply and shared this dedication with his friends and students.
Furthermore, Ed truly believed in the idealism of America and the American Dream. He saw in every human person their intrinsic value and he encouraged and respected everyone to follow their dreams. His life was a model of how to live. He never gave up searching for fulfillment of his version of the American dream. He had long-since succeeded in the classroom and on the football/baseball fields in high school. He had married, raised three children and spent many hard years in a meat-packing plant before going on to a very successful career selling insurance. Finally, he felt the need to give something back to his community; so he decided to coach and teach. Thank goodness he went back to school to become certified to coach and teach, because the Howland Community is so very grateful Mr. Edward Emch shared his All-American life with us.
But before we get to weeping over the irreplaceable nature of our loss, let us consider the inspired words of a recent Howland graduate and YSU freshman, Anthony Feezle, "Mr. Emch was one of the main reasons I chose to become a history teacher."
Herman is a Warren resident. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org