I drive by Piner on the highway and can’t help but think about my time at that school, especially the eighth grade.
The Piner Middle School Wildcats (now the PMS Bearcats) were an incredible group of kids that I was proud to be included. It was the early 1970s – and even though bad things were coming to a head i.e. Watergate and Vietnam – we were just busy growing up in small town America. We were learning what it meant to be mature in a grown-up world even though we were too immature for words…
The teachers were just as incredible – some may not agree, but I vouch for them all – and one of the best was a middle-aged woman with glasses strung on a chain around her neck: Myrna Banzer.
She had a reputation as being gruff and tough. The rumor was that you simply couldn’t like her; she was mean and hated children. ‘Why was she a teacher?’ was asked by many of the ‘uneducated’ because they didn’t know her. They simply believed the rumors propagated by students who failed or got excessive detentions. The rumors couldn’t be further from the truth; I know because I knew Mrs. Banzer.
I never had her as a teacher, but I had something better. She was Piner activities director my eighth grade year; and among those duties was operating/sponsoring the activities office where two students every period worked. I was fortunate enough to work in the office right after lunch, which was the period before homeroom. Any assemblies we had were during homeroom period; and I was responsible for set up of the auditorium (which is currently buried under classrooms in the current Piner building). Good ol’ Pullen Auditorium!
So, every school day, I got to see and be with Mrs. Banzer in a setting where she wasn’t my teacher. We got to be ‘adults’ together if you include two people getting things done for the benefit of the group (the students of Piner in this case); yeah, we were working as ‘adults’ in an office setting. Just to get that experience was something I had no idea I would get in eighth grade much less anytime, but there I was – without knowing it – learning about how life actually worked; how to deal with people and how to work together to get something done.
And at the heart of it all was Myrna Banzer.
She wasn’t mean and she LOVED children; she devoted her life to teaching them. As best as I could understand, she began teaching sometime during WWII when her husband was away at war (Craig would later become a Prisoner of War). She had been teaching some 30 years by the time I met her; and she continued for years after. Not bad for someone who ‘hated’ children…
Oh, she was firm and had high expectations for you! She was ‘hard’ on you, but that was because she knew you could rise to the standard. What better way for a teacher to be? As the year progressed, we could be found laughing at some stupid thing as we worked to get the auditorium ready or redecorate some bulletin board. She was fun, too; who knows how many students she allowed to see ‘behind the curtain?’ All I know is that I was one of them. Even with all the incredible experiences of that year, I remember Mrs. Banzer the most and the best.
I wish I had kept up with her better than I did, but I was a kid growing up and on to bigger experiences as high school beckoned. I don’t think I ever got to speak to her again after eighth grade. I truly wish I had. I have been able to discover she retired; and immediately packed Craig and all their necessary possessions into an RV. They traveled to Colorado where they lived during the summers and set up shop in nearby Arizona in the winters. Mrs. Banzer loved (and I mean LOVED) the outdoors, so she spent the remainder of her years out in it. She died years ago without ever knowing how special she was to me.
It's only after the years go by and you reflect on Life that you realize what has been important. I can spot a handful of times in my life that shaped me for who I am; and number one is that year I spent with Myrna Banzer in the heart of Wildcat Country.
Dwayne Wilder is a Sherman native who currently lives in Denison. Wilder’s Whole World is his commentary about life in Texoma and the world. Wilder can be reached at email@example.com. The views and opinions expressed here are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of Texoma Marketing and Media Group.