TO this day, I swear the only reason I got through Kathryn Wenzel's 9th grade English course was because I was taking Winifred Jones' beginning Latin course at the same time. In those days English's rules were about the same as Latin's.
In 10th grade, my English teacher was also my Latin teacher. I forget the Latin lessons, but I'll never forget the English lessons. H. Paul Jewells, whose nickname was "Pappy," had an array of acronyms for assignments. When we studied a part of speech we had to "DIP," that is, define, illustrate and prove. I forget what he told us about verbs, but when I started writing this essay "DIP" came right back to me. A physical fitness buff, a man with a perfect posture, he died of a heart attack shortly after retiring.
I can also recite Portia's plea for mercy from Shakespeare's Merchant of Venice, thanks to my 8th-grade English teacher, Louise Kellner. Miss Kellner became quite dramatic in her rendition and we knew that to do anything less was to invite a lower grade. Who said the quality of osmosis isn't high?
I did not do as well with Shakespeare in 12th grade because my analysis of Hamlet did not square with what my teacher had learned in college (Goucher). After all, I took the side of Hamlet's stepfather, which I wouldn't do today. I was on the right side when we read The Ugly American.
My 11th-grade English teacher was also an assistant football coach and later became a head coach at other schools. He taught us vocabulary and critical reading, which I began to doubt the day one of my buddies said an essay we had read "lacks colorful words" and he got a nod of approval from our teacher, who had just made the same observation about an earlier essay. Osmosis works again!
More than 20 years ago, I published a book on language skills, which included this observation: "And I cannot say enough good about the six high school English teachers who helped shape my attitude toward the language. Rarely can a person boast of having had six good high school English teachers."
Unfortunately, even after looking through five yearbooks, I cannot recall who the sixth teacher was, the one in 7th grade. I think it was Miss Wenzel's younger sister Irma, who was also my 8th-grade geography teacher. Irma was not as stern as Kathryn, although her standards were just as high.
Irma died in 1980. I know that because I read it in Kathryn's obituary. She was 90. She is survived by a niece and three grand nieces—and me.