August 17, 2010

Division Avenue's teachers propelled Lou Kuhlman to an interesting life; several contributed to his awakening

Richard Keating taught English in the early years of the high school

By Lou Kuhlman, Class '60
I do not really remember much from high school, other than, in general, I wanted that period of my life to be over.

My second year of English 11 with Mr. Keating was very memorable and enlightening. During the year, the class had an assignment, to do a composition (though it may have been a literary essay, whatever that is) about how people "escape their hum-drum lives by reading romantic novels". When my composition was returned to me, it was more red than black, and had a note to see him about this. After a short talk I was told to do it over, incorporating his comments, which I did.

This second version was returned just slightly less red than the first. Again, I was instructed to do it over. Less it again. This extra project went on forever. At the end, I had it both polished and memorized. A few months later I took the English 11 Regents test, my last hope for passing English 11 and graduating. Guess what? The composition portion of the test, worth something like 25-30% of the total score, was "How do people escape their hum-drum lives by reading romantic novels."

Jimmy Durante used to end his shows saying goodnight to Mrs. Calabash, a landlady who had helped him before he became a star. I would like to thank Mr. Keating "Where-ever he is" for his faith and help. You will always be remembered.

Another memorable teacher was Miss Eisenhauer. She somehow managed to get me to care enough about my upcoming multi-year Regents history test, to study. End result...I received the highest score in the school and was given a big hug...not a small thing in the "silent 60s". Again, she will always be very fondly remembered. Thank you Miss Eisenhauer for your faith. Up until that test, I had always just winged it on exams, assignments, or other projects. What I picked up by "attending" class is what I brought to any form of evaluation. Miss Eisenhauer showed me what I could achieve with a reasonable amount of effort.

I also remember a substitute teacher, Mrs. Fleckenstein, a stout woman worthy of her strong name. If I remember it right, she had survived 16 years of Catholic schools and was married to a lawyer. Whenever she taught a class, you learned something. I just loved it when someone would challenge her control of the class as often happened with subs.

There is a line from the movie "Pretty Woman", which perfectly describes this situation, "big mistake...huge". More often than not, the challenger would be escorted outside, and after some banging of locker doors and other unpleasant sounding noises, she would bring a different person back into the room, and the class would resume. Thank you Mrs. Fleckenstein, you did show me that right makes might. Society today would consider us unacceptable for not first considering the child's self image. A good self-image is not a birth right, it is earned.

Lastly, Mr. Simes. During my senior year trigonometry class he did his very best to get my attention and have me do what he wanted me to do. What he did not understand was that I was working on a system to make a good living at the race track. Using statistics and probabilities I did come up with a betting system which would return about $10-15,000 per year. Not a bad income for 1960

Mr. Simes' method for getting my attention was to get face-to-face and yell at me. When he did this, I would mentally count up the people I knew who weighed over two hundred pounds. Mental counting results in a real distant look on the counter's face. This distant look just caused him to yell louder...and so it went. Supposedly, a good sign of insanity is when a person continues to do the exact same thing expecting a different result. He continued to yell and I continued to count. I must have been driving him crazy. Sorry about that Mr. Simes.

I can say this about trig, I remember all of the functions and use them often, so your yelling did hit something in my head before exiting out the other ear.

Overall, four years at Division Avenue High School in the late 1950s was a secure place in which those who wanted a good education could get one, and the real tough guys, the "hoods", were actually not that bad. If I had to do it all over again, I would.

After graduation I went to work at my uncle’s construction company, bought a 1957 Chevy convertible (wish I had it now) and started getting myself into various degrees of trouble. In 1962 I had a choice to make, buy a new Corvette and take over the company in few years, or join the new nuclear Navy and possibly do something with my life. I joined the Navy. During the remainder of the 1960s I married, had two beautiful daughters, and spent most of the second half of that decade under the surface of the north Atlantic.

In 1969 we left the Navy and went to Pittsburgh to establish a nuclear plant operators school at the Shippingport Nuclear Plant, the first commercial nuclear plant in the U.S. For the next 21 years I moved around the country, performing final design evaluations, and establishing the initial test program and operation of many nuclear plants. I retired in 1990 after spending the last 10 years at the Palo Verde nuclear station near Phoenix, the largest station in the U.S. From the first to the last, my career spanned the breadth of the first phase of our nuclear program.

After retirement I spent many great mornings poolside doing the paper/coffee routine. Afternoons were spent at the library researching recipes for dinner. Great life? Wrong! Retirement was boring and fattening. Started volunteering with Habitat for Humanity. Spent a year working with them almost full time, building six houses.

During this time, I met a fantastic woman. We spent a few years going out most every night learning/doing country dancing. I had never known a gal like this, a farmer’s daughter from North Dakota, but after two failed marriages, I was very, very skeptical.

At the start of 1995, I sold my Phoenix home and went looking for some property in the Blue Ridge Mountains. For six months, I drove all over those mountains looking at hundreds of towns and parcels of land, all the time thinking about my Phoenix dance partner. In July she came east to see what I had found. She was as excited as I was about it

In September we were married and moved into a 25 ft. travel trailer while we physically built our "perfect home". It took us 3 1/2 years to complete the place, which for us, is the ideal home. During this time the only complaints she ever made was when the trailer roof leaked and stained her good clothes.

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