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Column: Reflections

Posted: February 15, 2018 2:34 p.m.
Updated: February 16, 2018 1:00 a.m.

We all had that special teacher or coach who inspired us to believe and achieve while we were in school. Take a minute and think about it. Who was yours? Recently, at Camden Military, we have experienced two occasions that have caused us to pause and reflect on this very question and I wanted to share those with you as well as share my most influential teacher during my school days.

First, I would like to share my favorite teacher during my high school career. I am a proud 1990 graduate of Camden High School. In my days at CHS, we did not have air conditioning in the school and that was a cause of great concern for the students. However, there was one teacher who defied the odds (and I think the administration) and had a window unit placed in her room.

This lady was Dr. Jean Pruett. That led to kids clamoring to get into her class but not so fast. Dr. Pruett had a reputation for being very strict and hard on students regarding discipline and English grammar. I heard the urban legends of how no one would ever make an A in her class, but I was spoiled and wanted a C! I had Dr. Pruett for two years and I honestly learned more in her class than any other. She had a unique way of connecting with her students and making learning fun as well as weaving life lessons and words of wisdom into her lessons. She developed my love of writing and taught me all about the “comma splice.” She also genuinely cared for her students and regardless of gender, race or socio-economic status.

Dr. Pruett empowered her students making them believe in themselves no matter what their personal circumstances. I was fortunate enough to thank her many times over after graduating from CHS. Once, my wife and I bumped into her years after I graduated and she still remembered me. I introduced her to my wife who was pregnant at the time. I bet we spoke for 15 minutes in Food Lion that day. Several weeks later, I received a call from Dr. Pruett asking if she could come by my house. Of course, I agreed. I wasn’t about to tell Dr. Pruett “no” about anything! She arrived a short time later with a handmade baby blue pillow for my son. My son is 20 years old, but I still cherish that pillow.

Dr. Pruett passed away a couple of years ago and it was evident of her impact on many students by the attendance at her services. I will always be grateful to Dr. Pruett and remember her each time I hear someone mention a “comma splice!”

At CMA, our headmaster, Eric Boland, recently celebrated his 60th birthday (I hope the boss doesn’t mind me putting that in print)! Anyway, a surprise party was planned for him. We were careful not to let him have any idea but we attempted to reach past students and players that Col. (and Coach/Dr.) Boland had impacted over the years.

The response was amazing! Former cadets and students flocked back to CMA to celebrate his milestone birthday. There were a number of stories shared that day from Col. Boland and former cadets. I heard numerous stories of the positive influence Col. Boland had on so many young men during his 34 years at the academy. He actually still communicates with many of them to this day. Occasionally, we may be in a meeting and Col. Boland will receive a call from a former student asking for advice, inviting him to a graduation or a wedding or even sharing the birth of their children.

It is amazing to see the admiration so many former cadets from all across the world has for this mentor at our academy.

More recently, there has been a reflection of a different sort at CMA. CSM Vertis Wilder succumbed to cancer after a nearly year-long battle. This was a very different situation as he had worked with the young men at CMA up until the Christmas break of 2017. When the cadets were notified of his passing, there were very few dry eyes on campus. CSM Wilder was more than a TAC officer to many of these young men. Oftentimes, he was a father figure, a spiritual influence, a friend. CSM Wilder was tough, but he was also quick to pat the young cadets on their back when they experienced success and speak with them regarding any issues they may be experiencing at home or in their personal lives.

Aside from the obvious grief of our current cadets, his impact was articulated through emails, calls and social media. There was an outpouring of emotion with many young men as well as parents of students who attended the academy or graduated stating that he had “saved” them and that he was the most influential man in their lives. During his sickness, many former cadets visited him and vocalized their gratitude. He was a very humble man and accepted their appreciation, but CMA will surely miss his smiling face on campus.

Remember, at the beginning of the article, I asked you to recall that special teacher or coach in your own life. Take a moment very soon to let that teacher or coach know how much they meant to you. You could call, send a text, post on their social media or even write a good old-fashioned letter! In closing, I have been in education for nearly 20 years and I pray that I can impact just one student the way these three tremendous people have impacted so many!

Thank you to Dr. Jean Pruett, Col. Eric Boland and CSM Vertis Wilder for making this world a better place for youth and leaving your lasting legacy in this world.


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