Growing up with Mishawaka Teachers
- by Marilou Karst Gilman

It was the best of times; it was the worst of times. I started my formal education in 1955 as a Twin Branch kindergartner. Miss Urnholt was my teacher. I don’t remember much of her face, as I was so shy that I only remember her opened-toed shoes and stocky ankles. My parents thought for sure I would fail kindergarten because I wouldn't talk. Thanks to Greg Kuharic and Bill Morse, I broke my arm that year. Miss Urnholt kept me in for recess one cold snowy day, and she soon became my friend. I could talk, and so I passed. (Oh, the monster she created!) It was on to first grade and Mrs. Smith. She was the grandma I wanted living next to me. During recess she would take me to the back of the room, and we would crow like roosters in order for me to learn my “r” sound. By the end of first grade I could say “Ma-ree-loo” with my head held high instead of my kindergarten “Mayweewoo.” I was deathly afraid of 2nd grade and Mrs. Lee who used to lean you over the desk, pull up your dress, and give you a whack if you were out of line. (The boys could see your underpants!) I was very gooooooood in her class! On to Mrs. Robertson; she was the teacher who helped me learn to love school. I wanted to be a third grade teacher that year. I would play school in the evenings with my sisters and sign their report cards "Joanne Robertson." There were others at Twin Branch. Mrs. Bowers, our 5th grade English teacher who read aloud “Blue Willow”; I loved her voice and could visualize the willows and the little China bridge. Mr. Cunningham, who was quite the true picture of a “gentle man” with his southern drawl and his shirts from Guam; I memorized the Gettysburg Address and the Indiana State song: “Round my Indiana homestead wave the cornfields.” Mr. Brainard, the gym teacher for 6 years, was my favorite; he was funny and kind and so energetic. Mr. Horst, my 6th grade math teacher; you never wanted to sit in the front of the room because he always spit when he talked!

It was on to Beiger Junior High in the fall of 1962. Mr. Witham in his lab coat, with peppermint breath covering the coffee and possibly cigarettes, was my homeroom teacher. He would help us do homework, but he always made sure we understood how we arrived at the answer. We had George Prough and his “Mighty Fine” and lemon drops when we did well. Mr. Boots was our music teacher, and we all thought we would never see adulthood as he scared the living daylights out of us with his Cuban Crisis analyses. Mr. Reederer was my math teacher; he knew I was deficient on the left side of my brain, and he coached and coached and coached me through 7th and 8th grade “new math.” But, the first love of my young years was English teacher, Mr. Tansey; I would dream that I was older and Mrs. Tansey. I loved the Last of the Mohicans because he loved the Last of the Mohicans! It was a chilly November day when Mr. Witham entered our classroom with tears on his cheeks. He whispered to Mr. Tansey to come out to the hallway with him. When they returned, each with red eyes and with Mr. Tansey blowing his nose into his white handkerchief, they shared the tragic news of the shooting of John F. Kennedy. Both men cried with us. I knew then that they had loving “gentle man” hearts.

In September 1964, I began at Mishawaka High School. Miss Hess was my Latin teacher that year. She pulled me outside the classroom and said, “Miss Karst, if you would spend as much time on your Latin as you do your comic routine, you would make everyone in class smile!” I soon learned to conjugate my verbs, and now I can knock the socks off those “Word Power” tests in Reader’s Digest! I had Miss Stoddart who walked me to the hallway after my class demonstration speech. With my bulldog under my arm and my speech on “How to Wash a Dog” on 3x5 cards in my hands, she said to me, “You have the potential to become a speaker. Come with me to meet our speech teacher, Mr. Chamberlain.” His class was my favorite. I loved speaking in front of others and could write and deliver a speech without much fuss. He got me involved in speaking contests, and there I met Kevin Tansey! Oh, heart throb. Kevin didn't know I existed, but I pretended to be Mr. Tansey’s daughter-in-law! Others were there to guide and encourage me. Miss Hackett: Blue polka dotted dress, chubby short stumpy legs, and an arm that wielded a mean baton! She too took me into the hall one day and said, “Marilou, a great violinist you may never be, but you have the potential to lead and make people happy. Your spontaneity is genuine, and little children would love your cleverness; however, the orchestra is for fine tuning talent. Do I make myself clear?” (I now teach first graders.)

However, the person to whom I owe my burning desire to learn is Mr. Charles Karst. He was dedicated to his students, loved to turn kids on to finding answers, and could write on the slate chalkboard faster than “The Rifleman” could burn a round of bullets! He took me aside one day while I was home from college and said, “If you really want to teach, then always remember to look the student in the eye and figure out what makes him want to learn. Don’t worry about curriculum; worry about teaching the love of learning. The curriculum will come after.” I have never forgotten those words. He was an example of his teaching. He never stopped learning or searching for answers. His basement was full of books, experiments, magazines, and models. He knew about astronomy, chemistry, math, gardening, history, geography. He was always reading, tinkering, experimenting, taking classes, teaching, grading, and hammering. I remember after his stroke, I watched as he persistently lifted the hammer, trying to hit the nail on the head time after time. He didn’t give up. Once he accomplished the nail hitting, he began to crewel, then to paint. There was nothing he didn’t want to learn, and he soaked up knowledge like a sponge. After his death, my youngest child said, “Mommy, why are you so sad? Grandpa now knows all the answers. God told him!” Charlie Karst was not only the best “horsee” in any Midwest living room, he was also an inspiration to his family, friends, and students. He is my hero; he is my dad!

Marilou Karst Gilman,
MHS 1968

Marilou Karst's father
Mr. Charles Karst

Mishawaka teacher tributes:
|Auggie Baetsle| |Emily Davidson|
Mary Hess| |Charles Karst|
Thelma Martin, 1| |Thelma Martin, 2|
Don Portolese| |Margaret Powell|
Earl Stine| |Helen Stoddart|
Rosa Weikel| |Marvin Wood|
A Collection of Thanks|