OPINION

LITTLE BALKANS CHRONICLES — One of their kids

J.T. Knoll
Babs and Susie Tims

It’s been said that once a school teacher has you in their class, he or she will forever more think of you as “one of my kids.” This week’s chronicle, by Chris Polsak, speaks to the compliment of that. Which is to say, no matter how old we get, once we are in certain teachers’ classes, we continue to think of ourselves as “one of their kids.” — J.T.K.

“To teach is to touch a life forever.”

I am not sure if it was Susie or Babs Tims’ classroom where I first read this sign in the 1980s at Lakeside Elementary. Possibly a gift from a former student, this sign served as a daily reminder to them of the significance of their profession as well as motivation to get them through their difficult days.

Susie and Babs lived this sign to the fullest. Over their combined 90 years of teaching, the number of lives they had a positive impact on is countless. I consider the Tims sisters educational giants — passionate about their students, which, in turn, made them eager to learn.

My friends and I still talk about many of our teachers and the impact they had on us growing up. A lot of these teachers, coaches, and administrators were giants, like Susie and Babs, who left a lasting impact on our lives. In a small town like Pittsburg, they served as secondary mothers and fathers.

Many of them were, in fact, parents of my friends. Of course, my favorite teacher (whom I never had in class) was my mom.

My wife, Micholee, grew up in Frontenac and shared similar experiences; strong connections to teachers, coaches, and administrators. Teachers, like Susie and Babs, who were devoted to their students; and coaches who served as secondary parents. It seems this kind of community bond is replicated in small towns all around the Midwest.

After attending Pittsburg State University, circumstance and occupation led our family to downtown Kansas City. As a parent of two girls, one of the most stressful tasks was finding a school district that we felt was right for them.

Kansas City is not a giant city, but it seemed so for a couple of kids from Southeast Kansas that were looking for school options. Micholee and I were not looking to recreate our childhood verbatim for our girls. We just wanted them to be surrounded by passionate educators equipping them for future success.

We wanted them to experience the same connection and school community that we felt in Pittsburg and Frontenac.

We eventually landed at Crossroads Academy; a public charter school that we felt had a makeup of educators, administrators, and students that were a great representation of Kansas City. Socioeconomic diversity, all walks of life. The teachers, administrators and coaches at Crossroads are reminiscent of those that taught us back in Southeast Kansas.

We started our fifth year at Crossroads this past fall. Due to COVID restrictions our kids started the school year learning virtually via Zoom. When my oldest daughter, Quinn, was introduced to one of her 4th grade teachers, Ms. Dye, we quickly discovered that Ms. Dye had grown up in Pittsburg — and her second grade teacher was my mom. Five years in we had already realized that we had found the school community we were looking for, but this was the icing on the cake.

The cherry on top came earlier this year when Quinn was in the middle of a poetry unit at school. Ms. Dye had a special Zoom poet present to help with the unit.

As I listened to Quinn’s call from the other room, I heard Ms. Dye introduce the special guest, one of her former teachers from Pittsburg — Al Ortolani. I was all smiles. Al, like Susie and Babs Tims, was one of the many teachers I characterized above. An educational giant.

It was even clearer to me that Ms. Dye, and the staff at Crossroads, were in the process of leaving a lasting impact on my girls’ lives. And for that I am thankful.

— Chris Polsak

If you have a remembrance and/or photo to share, send it — along with your name, address and phone number — by email to jtknoll@swbell.net or by land mail to 401 W. Euclid, Pittsburg, Kansas 66762. You can phone and text photos to 620-704-1309. — J.T. Knoll