Milewski/My Turn: A lasting impression
The small town of South Deerfield served as my childhood home from age 9 to 23. I attended Frontier Regional High School in the late 1970s, graduating with 75 fellow seniors in 1982. We grew up in a time when farm life and a trip to the drive-in theater intermingled seamlessly with the allure of hanging out at the mall and renting the latest movie on videotape.
Looking back, our lives seemed so simple and yet, we were as typical as any technologically savvy teen today — just kids trying to make sense of ourselves and the world we lived in. We needed people in our lives who embraced the idea that they could positively affect us by sharing their knowledge and wisdom, people who cared enough to truly make a difference.
As a junior in high school, I was required to take English composition, and my teacher, William Steinecke Jr., had a reputation for being tough. He was a master of the English language and thankfully for FRHS students, left a career in journalism to help teenage kids better hone their writing skills.
On my first composition I received a “C/F” (content/grammar). I was crushed. I distinctly remember Mr. Steinecke using me as an example in class of what not to do — writing “could of” instead of “could have” — I’ll never forget that embarrassing moment. Even so, I knew this man who sported a 1950s-style crew cut, glasses and walked with a distinctive hitch in his step wanted me not only to improve but to excel.
I worked hard over the next few years and I knew he respected me for it. I took a journalism class with him my senior year and became a managing editor of the school newspaper as well as editor of the art magazine. As I contemplated college possibilities, he took the time to sit down with me and discuss my options. After finishing college with a bachelor of Science in Communications/Media and a minor in English, I got engaged and without hesitation my fiancee and I invited Mr. Steinecke to our wedding.
One year after my wedding, Mr. Steinecke passed away. I know that many students found him to be tough and unyielding, but I think it all depends on your personality. I appreciated him and responded to his stringent methods of teaching. I wanted to learn, to go beyond my preconceived limitations, to excel. Mr. Steinecke believed in me, which in turn gave me the confidence to pursue my passion for writing.
My second mentor was my esteemed varsity field hockey coach, Viola Goodnow. As a sixth-grader in the mid ’70s, a friend invited me to watch the Frontier Regional High School varsity field hockey team play in the state final game at Amherst College. It was amazing! The next summer, my older sister’s friend encouraged me to try out for field hockey in the fall, and I did, thus beginning my love affair with the sport.
I worked hard and made the varsity squad my junior year. Some people said Ms. Goodnow had softened over the years, but I only knew what I knew, so to me she demanded nothing less than our best. She knew when a laugh or smile was appropriate, but during games she was piercingly focused and expected us to be the same.
Coach Goodnow taught me to set goals and to dig deep in the most exhausting moments, but most of all she taught me to respect the game, the team and the legend of field hockey at Frontier Regional High School. I respected her immensely and wanted to go above and beyond my own limitations to do right by her.
In the end, it was her dedication and commitment to her players that gained my utmost respect. After college, I coached alongside her for one season; what an opportunity! Coach Goodnow also received an invitation to my wedding and fortunately met my first born before tragically passing away. Many years later, as I coached my own daughter at the junior varsity level, I thought often of Coach Goodnow’s lessons and legend, and I strived to emulate her coaching methods.
I wish I could thank Mr. Steinecke and Ms. Goodnow face to face for all that they so unselfishly gave to me, but I have to settle for sending a nod heavenward now and then, writing this column and living my life with their valuable lessons as my guide. They so graciously were my mentors and I humbly thank them for taking the time to teach, to support, and to care.
Kathy Gates Milewski lives in Merrimac.