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Who has been your biggest influence in your life?

May 24

Great personal story to share today of a very cool interaction that happened this week.

So, if you’re reading this blog post you’ve by now guessed that I write a bit. This all started ten years ago and I have frequently told you to blame my great friend, Kris Dunn, who got me started in blogging, but there’s more to this story!

When I was a freshman in high school at Godwin Heights High School in Wyoming, MI (basically a neighborhood in Grand Rapids, MI), is when I really started writing. Godwin Heights was a blue-collar high school. We actually walked by a GM plant on our way to school. Our baseball field was next to the plant parking lot and the workers on break would throw the foul balls over the fence so we didn’t have to climb the fence.

So, ‘start writing’ is a bit of a stretch. I was forced to write every day by my freshman English teacher, Ruth Kemp. Ruth was one of those great educators, a throwback in public education to a time when individuals became teachers because they just love teaching kids. They would have probably done it for nothing if they could. Always excited to see her kids learn, and she was super passionate that writing was like any other skill if you wanted to be good, you had to do it every day, so she made us journal for fifteen minutes every day.

I didn’t matter what you wrote, but you had to write for fifteen minutes. To me, this was torture. At first I actually just copied articles out of magazines (which she allowed) but that got super boring. The other crazy part about Ms. Kemp (not a Mrs., never married) was she would comment on each kids journal. Sometimes just a word or two, sometimes paragraphs, even more than you wrote yourself.

Being a class-clown type, I wanted to see how far I could get her to interact with me ‘in the comments’ of my journal, so I started to make up random stories about people in the class. She didn’t bite, but instead played along and expanded the stories. Asked all these probing questions about my stories, etc. She got me to write more in a creative way and I was energized by her feedback and interaction with me, I couldn’t wait to get to the next class to read what she wrote back to me.

So, this isn’t the story I wanted to share, but you need the context. 

When my book got published last year, I tracked down Ms. Kemp’s address through the school, even though she had retired, and sent her a copy with a long letter explaining her influence on me. Again, she wrote back, and it took me all the way back to my freshman year of high school, her words, tone, energy were still exactly the same.

This week I’m flying out of the Grand Rapids, MI airport. I usually don’t, because it’s not the closest to my house, and it’s fairly small so no direct flights, but there was a direct flight of Minneapolis, so it was going to be easy. I probably go out of Grand Rapids 3-4 times per year. One of my high school classmates I had mentioned on social media a few years ago that Ms. Kemp was a volunteer at the Grand Rapids airport, so each time I fly through I look, but in years have never seen her, so I figured she probably didn’t do it anymore.

On Tuesday night I fly in at 11 pm. 11 pm airports are pretty quiet. Especially small airports. I’m walking from the gate to the parking garage and I spot Ms. Kemp, at 11 pm, standing at the visitor desk packing up her things. I hadn’t seen her in person since my senior of high school.

I walk up and she looks at me and says “Can I help you?” I say, “I’m Tim Sackett”, and she says “Of course you are!” And gives me a giant hug. We catch up, I get to thank her again for her influence on me in person, and I say goodbye. Turns out, that Tuesday night shift was Ms. Kemp’s last shift ever at the airport, and now she is fully retiring. It was done at 11 pm. She was packing up to leave for good.

We have some pretty crazy things happen to us in our life. The fact that I got to see Ms. Kemp again, probably for the last time ever, by a chance meeting in an airport at 11 pm on a Tuesday is insane. One of the biggest influences in my life, and call what you will, Karma, etc. , the universe let me have that moment. Student, teacher.

Enjoy your retirement, Ms. Kemp. You influenced countless blue-collar kids to be better than we thought we could be.

7 Comment to “Who has been your biggest influence in your life?”

  1. This is so wonderful – and I can tell you, being married to a retired teacher, that you absolutely made her day. My husband glows any time he hears from or sees a former student that lets him know he made an impact. Teaching can be a slog, and he would sometimes come home wondering if he was doing any good. Knowing you made a difference makes it all worthwhile.
    I too grew up in a blue collar town in Michigan (Warren), and had wonderful teachers that encouraged me to pursue my dreams. Thanks teachers for all you do for us!

    Karen Stevens
    May 28, 2019
  2. Wow Tim great story! Did NOT know you were from Grand Rapids. I know exactly where you are talking about (My Mom worked at that GM plant), and I always thought that baseball Diamond was in the weirdest spot lol. So glad you got to see your old influential teacher.

    Quana O'Bryan
    May 24, 2019
  3. What a great story! I’m sure it meant as much to her as it did to you.

    Nancy McKeague
    May 24, 2019
  4. This just confirms the influence an engaged teacher, coach or mentor can have on anyone! thanks for sharing Tim!

    Donna
    May 24, 2019
  5. Thank you for sharing this great little story. I love it.

    Bonita Martin
    May 24, 2019
  6. What a great story and testament to the influences and impacts that teachers can have on a students life! I truly enjoy reading your daily blogs and insights!

    Julie
    May 24, 2019
  7. This is a wonderful story and testament to how people can have such a huge influence on our lives, without ever realizing it. So happy you were able to have an opportunity to let Ms. Kemp know just how very instrumental she was in your success. Thank you for providing such an uplifting message on this Friday!

    Nicole Cassel
    May 24, 2019

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