When I think about my teachers, there are two who always come to mind. And, I suspect, they always will. Both were at the same school, Mackinaw Middle School in Saginaw, Michigan.
Both teachers came into my life when I was in the 5th grade. The impact of events during that school year have kept the memories new. Mrs. Vassold was my classroom teacher. Looking back now, she wasn’t old, but she seemed so then. Of course, to a ten-year-old, adults all seem old.
Mrs. Vassold was a caring, kind, and encouraging teacher. Everything seemed doable in her class. She had a real gift of instilling confidence in her students, something that I lacked. I didn’t realize until many years later how much Mrs. Vassold meant to me. As I think of her now, there is still a sense of calm connected to my memory of her.
Harry B. Wallerstein was our middle school band teacher. He was another educator with a gift of reaching into students’ hearts and planting seeds of confidence they might not otherwise ever experience. My chosen instrument was the cornet, which I played because my uncle had a horn I could use. It seemed like no time at all and our band was playing real songs. Mr. Wallerstein was my band teacher four years.
Mrs. Vassold and Mr. Wallerstein were on the same team. They may not have literally planned together, but the results of their teaching strategies and caring spirit changed lives forever.
Through many years of music experience, I am amazed at the music Mr. Wallerstein inspired us to play at such a young age. Those songs were tough! We played them beautifully. I’ll never forget Mr. Wallerstein playing a tape recording of a new song that had just burst on the airwaves. It was called, “Yesterday”, by Paul McCartney.
Mr. Wallerstein made learning music such fun. Every day he was on the lookout for students who were chewing gum, which was forbidden. Right in the middle of a song he would point at the offender and yell, “Ten cents!” He wrote their name on the board. There was always a long list. He collected all those dimes throughout the year. On the last day of school, he brought in a clawfoot tub, filled it with all kinds of pop and provided lots of potato chips. We were welcome to come in throughout the day, as many times as we wished.
I really didn’t realize how much I had learned from Mr. Wallerstein until I was asked to be a band director at a private school. The only training I had was what I had seen Mr. Wallerstein do. I did the same.
In 1997, I found Mr. Wallerstein’s address on the internet, he was living in Florida. I wrote him a letter, not knowing for sure if it was really Harry B. Wallerstein of Mackinaw Middle School fame. My letter began, “Dear Mr. Wallerstein, my name is Dale Parsons. From 1963 to 1967, I was in your band. I don’t know if you’ll remember me…” I was thrilled beyond words when I received a several page, hand-written letter. “Dear Dale, of course I remember you! When I read your name, I immediately saw your face…” I still have that letter and will always treasure it.
A few years ago, I looked up Mr. Wallerstein on the internet again. This time, I found a picture and a record of his obituary. I have looked for Mrs. Vassold over the years, but since I don’t know her first name, I have never been able to find any record of her.
Now, more than fifty-five years later, I can still see their faces. Mr. Wallerstein and Mrs. Vassold. I remain thankful for all my teachers, but these two have a high place in my memory.
That year is etched in my mind forever. I was in Mrs. Vassold’s class, during Social Studies, and the principal spoke on the PA. “Staff and students, I am sorry to inform you that President John F. Kennedy has been assassinated.”