My wage was $20 a month. When Waldo Warren got me, he also got The Log, the local high school paper, of which I was the editor, and he was thus guaranteed a weekly supply of school news, to which he devoted an entire page each week. I was given complete freedom over style and the content of that page I was responsible for weekly. When I left his employ after a year, he said, “If I were you, I’d forget about ever being a printer. You don’t really have the aptitude for that end of it. You’ll do much better if you concentrate on the editorial and writing part of publishing and stay away from the ink and presses.” I think I had just allowed the giant presses to chew up several yard of newsprint. Whenever that happened, hundreds of stamp-sized pieces of paper had to be picked off the drum and out of the ink which had the consistency of molasses.
My job at the Courier transformed me from a rebel without a cause into a responsible teenager with one. Whereas my overactive mind and energy had been devot3ed to thinking up ways to punish and thwart the school authorities for what I thought was their authoritarian lack of attention to our social needs, I now had the “considerable, I thought) responsibility of producing weekly something of value for the community, for which I was earning approval, praise, and encouragement, commodities which, with but a couple of exceptions, I’d found in short supply in my relationship with school administrators.
I got encouragement from Beth Sarrah (Mrs. Marvin McNeel) to get a college education and pursue a writing career, but she was an exception among my teachers. Some had already written me off as a failure in school and were willing to wager on lack of success in life. I’ve been a teacher (Subject: English to the brightest 40 students at the best high school in Utah). I know now that I was a problem student at Sutherland and I would be classified as a juvenile delinquent today in any high school I’ve ever taught. I have to admit that in my approximately ten years of teaching young adults, I’ve never taught a student as challenging as I must have been. I was even expelled from high school in one awful, terrifying moment. The words still thunder in my ears: “You have been an organizer and a disruptive influence. We do not want or need your kind in our school. You are expelled and you are not welcome to ever come back.”
I know now I probably deserved to be expelled for a lot of reasons, but not for the reasons I was given. If only I’d had a Bill Fulcher to challenge me and show me how to afford a college education, I might have been so busy preparing for college I knew was possible that I think I would not have had time to be a problem to anyone. But best of all, I would not have had to struggle so hard the next fifteen years to get a college education. I was so convinced after my high school experience I was without academic ability that it came as a tremendous shock at 35 years of age to discover that not only could I handle regular college work, I could even go to graduate school.
My parents had such complete and unquestioning confidence in the school system that any punishment I ever received in school was doubled on my arrival home. And to make sure, my mother seemed to have spies everywhere in the faculty who made sure the news of my misbehavior preceded my arrival at the dinner table. On the day I was expelled, my Grandfather Combs was so disgraced, he refused to speak to me or even acknowledge my presence in the room for the shame I’d brought on the family for being “an organizer and a disruptive influence.” He was a law-and-order man who once threatened to whip me good when he heard I’d attended a dance without paying the 50 cents admission. “No grandson of mine will ever fail to pay his own way…” etc.
My mother was beside herself on the day of my expulsion, filled with as much shame as if I’d been excommunicated from the whole educational process for all eternity, which I in fact had been. There was nowhere to finish school if not Sutherland; although for a week until I was invited back to school I was secretly making plans to relocate to Hershey and graduate there under an alias. In short, I was well served by every experience in my home town except school. As a former educator myself I know things for me could have been / should have been better. I am truly sorry for my teachers, especially for those whose lives I may have shortened, that I wasn’t more cooperative. I’m gratified to see the conditions are better for today’s SHS student than they were for me in 1946. I have good reasons to support the alumni fund as generously as I am able if it will save just one student from the agony I experienced trying to overcome unnecessary obstacles in getting a college education.