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.
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Remembering a great teacher from DeKalb
By Barry Schrader.................................May
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
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.
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 hes
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
bachelors in secondary education and a masters in
education in 1951, he moved into the classrooms at local elementary
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 havent 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
If you havent gone back and thanked a teacher you had for
being such an influence in your life, better do it before its
The columnist can be reached via email at :
or by snailmail at:
PO Box 851
DeKalb, Ill 60115