Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - Feb. 17, 2006

Six degrees of connection

It's funny how connected you can feel to someone you didn't know that well. I went to his funeral less than two weeks ago and was surprised I knew so many at the service. I guess I shouldn't have been. He was a friend to many people and had been a local teacher - first teaching at Prairie Rock School northwest of Randolph, then teaching sixth, seventh and eighth grades in Olsburg and finishing with the fifth grade class at Bluemont Elementary School in Manhattan.

I met him and his wife through my local Sertoma (Service to Mankind) club in 1996. They were members of the Sertoma Evening Club and I was joining the newly-established luncheon club.

Our paths didn't cross too often, but I remember getting re-acquainted with them through Mom's connection with the Manhattan Area Retired Teachers Association. Mom was an elementary school teacher for 31 years, and one of the first things she did when she and Dad moved to Manhattan was to join the organization.

Mom invited me to some of the group's meetings. It was there that I saw Charles and his wife Doris again. He was a tall man who moved deliberately and had a somewhat shy smile. In contrast, I could lay my head on Doris' when I put my arm around her. She moved more quickly and had a quick smile.

They and several other retired teachers wrote the book, The Rural Schools of Riley County Kansas, published by the county historical society, in 2004. It had photos of the schools, information about when each one was in operation, tidbits about classes offered and games kids played at recess, a sample teacher contract, and charts with teacher salaries, student numbers and more. I bought two copies - one for me and the other for Mom.

Last spring, when Riley County was celebrating its sesquicentennial, I was excited to learn that Charles and Doris would be among several guides on the rural bus tours. We traveled along dusty, gravelly roads, stopping at churches, cemeteries, schools and bridges and learning of by-gone days.

Even the pastor at Charles' recent funeral was familiar with their passion for local history because Charles and Doris had insisted on showing him northern Riley County when he first moved to the area.

Over the last few months, I seemed to run into the couple quite a few places. They were at the Swedish supper in Olsburg before Christmas. I got Charles to sign my copy of the book when the Riley County Historical Museum had an open house to honor local authors. Another time, I chatted with Charles in the parking lot of Ray's Little Apple Market. He was waiting in the car while Doris was getting groceries. And on yet another occasion, Art and I ran into them at a local restaurant.

At his funeral, I sat in the midst of friends who undoubtedly knew him better than I. I discovered he was a boyhood friend of the father of one of my best friends.

"He was the sweetest man," another friend said.

The older I get, the more I realize how connected we all are. Six degrees of separation is a term sometimes used to suggest that each of us is separated from every other person on earth by no more than six people. To me it seems more like six degrees of connection.

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