Rantoul Press columnist

Howard came from a broken home, and school was bad news for him from day one. He never seemed to share his teachers’ theory of education; the minute they left the room, he would put on a show.

In exasperation, his fifth-grade teacher tied him to his seat with a big rope. Then she taped his mouth shut, and said, "Now, you will sit still and keep quiet." Under those restraints, he could do little else.

Finally, Howard was promoted from fifth to sixth grade. The sixth-grade teacher, Miss Noe, was 6’4" tall and not a lady to be trifled with. When Howard walked into her class the first day of school, the first thing Miss Noe said was, "So you’re Howard. I’ve heard a lot about you. But I don’t believe a word of it."

That was the turning point for Howard. Miss Noe was the first teacher who ever convinced him that she believed in him. And that knowledge created within him the determination to never let her down.

A few weeks ago, I received a text from my brother, who had gotten a text from Pam, saying Steve Davenport was dead. It was like I had been punched in the stomach.

When I began my sophomore year at Rantoul Township High School, Steve Davenport was my biology teacher. I’ve been blessed with many great teachers (some of whom still live in the area), and Steve was one of the best. He believed in his students, he loved his students, and I never wanted to let him down.

A wonderful novel of the 19th century was "Tom Brown’s Schooldays" by Thomas Hardy, and one of its best parts is its tribute to Dr. Thomas Arnold, the headmaster of Rugby, Tom Brown’s school. Arnold was an actual individual and educator, who brought sweeping reforms to English schools and left his mark on those he taught.

In the novel, he is pictured as a prince of a man who expected the best from his students, who ennobled them by his values and behavior, and who — because he believed in them — held his students in the palm of his hand.

And then, one day, several years after leaving school, Tom Brown heard that Dr. Arnold had died. The news hit him hard . . . "The deep, loving loyalty which he felt for his old leader made the shock intensely painful."

When Tom was finally able to visit Arnold’s grave, he groaned aloud.

"If he could only have seen the doctor again for five minutes [to] tell him all that was in his heart, what he owed to him, how he loved and reverenced him . . ."

When I heard the news, I let Kenny, Marlon, and some others know; kids I went to school with, who would also be touched by the news of Steve’s passing.

I hope somewhere along the way you had a Steve Davenport; I hope you, too, had a teacher you never wanted to let down.

Kenny Chumbley, a lifelong resident of Rantoul, is a minister, author and  publisher.