By Glenn McLaughlin ’74
Bucknell changed my life. Among Bucknellians, this is not a unique experience, but for each of us, how it came to be is unique. I tend to focus on four people. As professors of chemistry and education, Chuck Root and Bill Hauck taught me to teach. They offered the miracle that can occur in a single moment with a student, if the teacher has courage and the pupil has faith. Legendary track and cross country coach Art Gulden's ultimate lesson was demonstrating that the gift of being able to breathe and live requires — if not demands — responsibility and dedication to something greater than yourself.
And then there was Spotty. I would never have met Spotty had it not been for my mother who, while waiting for my father to get the car on that first day in August 1970, gently asked, "Now, your father and I are fine, and I don't want you to worry, but if you could find a little job while you are here, that would help a lot. But don't tell your father I said anything." A week later I met Spotty in the dining hall.
He was shorter than me, but not short. And round, as I remember, though strong. A sergeant, a proud non-com. He tested and taught with new tasks each day. And if you passed his challenges there was, eventually, a grin. He took me under his wing, shared his secrets and trusted me a year later with the task of helping to train the new recruits.
Teaching does not always require a classroom. When I ran aground academically, Chuck Root and Bill Hauck took me aside, reassured me and tested me again without warning or preparation because they had more confidence in me than I had in myself. Spotty taught me the value, and pleasure, of work. He taught me how to wash dishes; to do that well, with pride; and to gaze upon the world from an angle most never bother to bend to.
When I was abandoned by my corporate home of 20 years after it moved offshore in 2005, when one daughter was diagnosed with cancer in 2006, I found myself in the competition of my life for a dishwashing job that would pay me $8 an hour because no one else would hire me. Too old, they all said. I needed Spotty. I remembered him saying: bend to it, get it done, do it right, it's honest work, there's nothing to be ashamed about.
Spotty and dishwashing saved my life. Eight hours a day, hands in a sink, gave me a step up to see a path to a classroom, even if only substitute work; the chance to draw on skills passed down from Professors Root and Hauck and Coach Gulden. And that led to moments of a lifetime with students I will never forget.
What is success? Spotty and the others taught that it is not material but, rather, moments, family, friends and making a difference one person at a time. In the end, that is what matters. That and knowing no matter what the salesman says about his dishwashing equipment, you still need to clean egg yolk off a plate by hand. Thanks, Spotty.
Recently selected Poet Laureate of Montgomery County (Pa.), Glenn McLaughlin '74 continues to substitute teach and can be reached at email@example.com.