A DESK WITH FAMOUS USERS
I have had three children and a grandchild. In addition to my love for them, each of them has received old school desks, which were being thrown away by various school districts. I stripped, repaired, and repainted all these old school desks for my children and grandchild. After many hours of repairs and restoration, an seemingly new desk would appear for each of them.
When my recent grandson, Jack, came into the world, I knew that he wanted his own restored desk. This desk would help make him educationally all that he could be. Granted, he isn't a year old yet, but he does need a desk. Therefore, I went out looking for a suitable one. On my recent Odysseus-esque trip back home several weeks ago (Odysseus Is My Middle Name), I mentioned to a cousin of mine in Merchantville, NJ about getting a desk for Jack.
My mother had attended school in Merchantville, and I thought that Jack would love a desk from the school system that his great-grandmother had attended. My cousin mentioned my plan to buy an old, unused desk from the school district to her sister. The sister hearing of my search told her that she and her husband had one that they would be happy to give it to me. Bingo. I had a desk; it was a desk like one that my mother would have sat upon in the mid-twenties. Therefore, this desk is at least 80-years old and probably much more. I loved it.
My wife, Ann, and I thanked my cousin for the desk and packed it into the car to continue our tour. We then went to Oxford, PA where I worked as a young preteen and early teenager on the farm during the summers owned by two other cousins of mine. Oxford brings back happy moments of my childhood. I loved milking cows, taking the milk to the creamery, hiding on the hay wagon, etc. While in Oxford, we found a chair for the Merchantville desk. I was in seventh heaven.
As with its four predecessors, I immediately started working on the restoration project. So successful was I with restoring the desk to near-mint condition that Ann said that she wanted to put it in my home office...which is now called Papa and Jack's Office. I concurred. Jack could use the desk with me when he came for visits.
This present addition to my office creates an obvious problem. Where to find another desk for Jack's own office in his Indianapolis home? Where could I go to pick up a desk? Then it came to me. I'd call Dixon, IL and get a desk from where I lived years ago and was also on the local school board. I had gotten a desk from there for one of my children thirty-five years prior. I called and told them who I was and what I needed. In addition, I also told them about being on the school board and knowing Stan Weber who was at that time the superintendent of schools and a good friend of mine. Clout never hurts with these important issues of life.
However, clout didn't work in this case. The school district no longer sold old desks to people wishing to restore them for use by their children at their own homes. I was dejected...but for only a short while.
Then I got to thinking of other school systems with which I have had some tie or relationship. I didn't waste a lot of time thinking about some other school district. The next day, I got a call from Mary at Washington Elementary School in Dixon. She informed me that they had found a desk for Jack...the only one in the entire school district. I was delighted and decided to drive to Dixon as soon as I cleared up some work in a class that I was teaching at DeVry. In a couple of days, I was on the road again back to Dixon to pick up the desk, to express my appreciation to them, and to articulate my delight about this God send.
Clout does work...after all. However, this find, while exciting, concerned me. Where had this desk been and why did they find it when they hadn't saved old desks for years? Apparently, the desk had something magical or mystical about it. When I picked up the desk from Mary at Washington Elementary School, all those in the office were quite friendly and gracious, but something seemed strange indeed. Nevertheless, no one mentioned anything, yet I felt something odd in the air.
While living in Dixon in the 70s, I wrote for the Dixon paper, The Telegraph. The publisher then was Bill Shaw, and we were good friends. So I stopped by his house and told him of my unsettled feelings about this desk. It was actually in very good condition...I had restored ones that were far from being as good as this one.
Bill told me that he had heard a rumor that the school district had found a desk used by a famous person. One of the famous people was Ronald Reagan. Reagan had grown up and had gone to school in Dixon. The rumor was that they gave me one of the desks that Reagan had used while in school.
That seemed like a nice rumor, but I was so far to the left politically from Reagan, and they knew that. I was and have always been a liberal. I think that I am left of President Obama. Therefore, why did they feel that I'd appreciate or love the desk?
My friend, who is fairly conservative, raised the possibility that they knew that I was liberal and wanted to give me a desk that Reagan used while in Dixon, because Reagan was not a conservative back then. When he went to Hollywood, he turned to the right. Maybe some in the school district wanted the desk of that fairly liberal student to be sold to someone who would appreciate Reagan's more liberal mindset when he was in school and using that desk. Hmmm. I don't know; it seems like a stretch to me.
My friend also stated that another rumor floating around was that the desk was that of Stan Weber, who was the superintendent of schools when I was on the school board...thirty-five years ago. Stan was a good man, and I respected him. He was always honest and fair. Even though we had a couple problems come up during my years on the board, he never treated me differently than he had prior to my election to the board.
I recall two particular issues while I was on the board. One had to do with an outside company that had a contract with the district to supply bus service for all the Dixon students. I had just gotten onto the board. I didn't know what Stan was planning for the future with the company. Nevertheless, I created a firestorm within the town about the safety of the students on these buses. I actually went on an unofficial inspection with a state inspector; no bus passed that inspection. The school board terminated our contract with the company...with several months left of the school year. The school system didn't have any bus service until the beginning of the next school year.
Stan and I were good friend even during this time period. I respected him for handling the situation well and especially his treatment of me.
Another issue was some mutual acquaintances of ours wanted to censor the textbooks in the schools. While the tea party hadn't been born yet, this situation was something over which the tea party would have gone ballistic. Again, I had no trouble defending the school system's choice of books. As I write this article, I am smiling as I recall that school board meeting, which dealt with that issue. I'm sure that Stan liked my out-spoken defense of the textbooks of the system.
Therefore, who knew which rumor is correct...was it Ronald Reagan's desk or was it Stan Weber's? An interesting possibility is that both gentlemen could have used this desk. Whichever it is cannot yet be determined. However, that desk is now in Jack's office in his home in Indianapolis. I hope that either Ronald Reagan or Stan Weber's liberalism many years ago wears off on Jack while he studies at that restored desk.