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Barry Schrader
Columnist

 

I currently write a column each Tuesday for the DeKalb Daily Chronicle. The column will also appear on this website each week and be added to the archives.

The Articles started December 2007.

 

If you've missed any please follow the links on the dates to catch up.

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Remembering a great teacher from DeKalb

By Barry Schrader.................................May 4, 2010

People move away over the years, and you wonder what happened to them and are they still alive.
I found one such well-known DeKalb teacher who just celebrated his 90th birthday and is enjoying retirement down in Lady Lake, Fla. Will Widerberg was a beloved teacher and principal for years in the DeKalb schools and had the distinction of being named National Teacher of the Year, which provided him a trip to the White House to meet President Dwight D. Eisenhower.
Jack Nelson, who lives up the street from me a few houses, remembers Will as a good poker player, while one of his former students, California resident Fred Dickey, considers him one of the profound influences in his life. That happens a lot with good teachers.

Will Widerberg

Students gain so much from them, and years later realize what an impact that teacher had as they finish college and begin a career. But how many of us take the time to go back and tell them that?
Widerberg, even though retired in Florida some 25 years, still considers DeKalb his home and would like to come up for the opening of the new high school next year. He and his wife, Dorothy, first built a house in Lady Lake and lived there 11 years before deciding there was more to do in an organized retirement community. So they moved into Water Oak where he says there is lots to keep them busy. A skilled pitcher, he has played in 12 World Series games in the senior softball league down there, although he’s never won the title game.
On his way to becoming a teacher in the 1940s his career got sidetracked as he was drafted into the Army and saw action in France, plus other assignments as an instructor where he trained soldiers for the D-Day invasion at Normandy. Coincidentally, a course he taught was “cutting through barbed wire” as they would face this daunting barrier while attacking the German lines. I wonder if he mentioned the peaceful uses of that DeKalb invention by Joseph Glidden, who meant it to be used for keeping livestock corralled.
After the war he came to Northern to get a degree for teaching physical education and industrial arts. But after obtaining a bachelor’s in secondary education and a master’s in education in 1951, he moved into the classrooms at local elementary schools.
He still kept up his outside interest in sports. He was considered such a good pitcher that Wurlitzer put him on the payroll as a timekeeper but utilized his pitching skills in the industrial softball league. Then Anaconda in Sycamore hired him away to be their pitcher, paying him $10 for a win and $7 when the team lost, he recalled.
But his passion for teaching earned him the respect of peers, parents, and the administration. After he was nominated for Illinois Teacher of the Year the Jaycees also named him as Illinois Man of the Year in 1954. Then came the national honor.
After five years in the classroom he moved into administration where he remained until retirement in 1979. Over the years he was involved in state and national efforts focused on developing and enriching the educational process, as well as helping students achieve their utmost potential in life. He worked through NIU as part of the National Science Foundation program to educate teachers in various science disciplines. He also took on the challenge of educating immigrants by teaching evening classes in basic writing and English skills for those wanting to become U.S. citizens in the DeKalb area.
His dedication and teaching skills haven’t been forgotten. Just last year, the Illinois state Legislature voted to have the Teacher of the Year award named after him.
He will also leave another legacy. Two of his five children chose to become educators and have taught in both Illinois and Florida. He talked enthusiastically about their careers. Both he and Dorothy can be proud of what they did to prepare the next generations for carrying on the American Dream.
If you haven’t gone back and thanked a teacher you had for being such an influence in your life, better do it before it’s too late.

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The columnist can be reached via email at :

barry815sbcglobal.net

or by snailmail at:

Barry Schrader
PO Box 851
DeKalb, Ill 60115