“A good teacher is like a candle. It consumes itself lighting the way for others.” – Author unknown
Paging through the winter edition of Dakota Wesleyan Today, I was stopped by a photo of a man and woman who looked familiar.
A closer look confirmed it. Unmistakably, it was Nyle Meeker, my high school vocal music teacher in the early 1960s in Chamberlain, and his wife, Donna. At 82, he’s retired, naturally, but hasn’t changed that much though he has gone through some tough times.
Since the photo was taken, his wife has died from a rare disease called olivopontocerebellar atrophy, a degeneration of neurons in the brain.
“The doctors we went to hadn’t heard of it,” he told me over the telephone.
The disease affected the nerves in Donna’s arms and legs, which caused difficulty walking. Then problems with dizziness forced her to use a walker.
“After a year or so the doctor sat down with us and said there was nothing for it. The only thing we could do was let it take its course.
“No pills would help her.”
Despite the loss, Mr. Meeker seemed at peace when we visited.
There’s something uplifting about talking to a high school teacher later in life, when your adulthood has caught up with his. The teacher-student relationship remains, but now it’s possible to talk nearly as equals, though I hasten to add I did not call him “Nyle.”
Every Tuesday and Thursday, members of the boys’ chorus would march into the music room of the old high school building and onto the risers. At least I think it was Tuesday and Thursday. Girls’ chorus was Monday and Wednesday, or was it the reverse? And then mixed chorus was Friday — I think.
No matter. Mr. Meeker always provided us with some background on the songs he had selected and at the time, I wondered how he knew as much as he did about the various composers. Plus, he was patient and often funny — handy traits for a teacher.
Looking back, it was the best of times. Mr. Meeker taught in Chamberlain seven years, then on to his hometown of Britton for 21.
“I was very fortunate to go to Chamberlain and have the talent to teach me what a good high school choir sounded like. I learned from that and carried it on,” he said.
Indeed he did. In 31 years in public school music, there were only three when his mixed choruses didn’t get a superior rating.
I was lucky that he taught when I was in school.
Feb. 27, 2019