8 Recall Their Guiding Lights

When asked who inspired them to excel, successful people often name a beloved teacher. Eight San Fernando Valley residents recalled teachers whose encouragement propelled them to achievement. These eight are the products of metropolitan and rural schools, parochial and public schools. Each voiced gratitude for teachers who loved the subjects they taught, and who respected the unique child in their charge .

Teacher Carl Rossborough expected excellence from his sixth-grade students at Calabash Elementary School in Woodland Hills. Jonathan Shapiro, now 21, didn’t disappoint him.

The Harvard University graduate, is one of only 32 Americans to be selected for the prestigious Rhodes Scholarship this year. But, even before winning that honor, his list of accomplishments was impressive.

He was an aide and speech writer for former Supt. of Schools Wilson Riles during a re-election effort, and a student member of the California State Board of Education. While at Harvard, he was vice president of Hasty Pudding Theatricals, the nation’s oldest collegiate drama club, and was on the boxing and rowing teams.

“Mr. Rossborough was my hero,” Shapiro said of the man who nurtured his early thirst for learning and success. “I wanted to emulate him right down to the Dr. Pepper he drank and the music he listened to.”

The teacher set high standards for his students, Shapiro recalled. Sports participation, political awareness and mastery of the basic skills were mandatory. As a result, Shapiro became class president two times that memorable year and received almost straight A’s.


Rossborough, who now teaches at Leonis Miguel Continuation School in Woodland Hills, provided motivation in all kinds of ways, said Shapiro. He read his students the book “Profiles in Courage,” by John F. Kennedy and shared with them the works of poet J. W. Yates.

One poem made such an impact on Shapiro that during his years at Harvard he kept it tacked on the wall of his dorm room--until he took it down to take with him next month to Oxford.

It’s all a state of mind

Life’s battles don’t always go to the

Stronger or faster man.

But sooner or later,

The man who wins,

Is the fellow who thinks he can.

Actor Robby Benson, who lives in Tarzana, was inspired by “teachers who took the time to look a student in the eye, and didn’t worry about passing or failing but learning .”

After attending P.S. 199 in New York, Benson completed his schooling at Lincoln Square Academy, a professional children’s school in New York City. There, Benson said, he was taught by a man who was one of the most memorable teachers he ever had. Teacher John Kendrick, who was also a poet and playwright, became a special friend to Benson.

Benson’s father, screenwriter and author Jerry Segal, a resident of Woodland Hills, was educated under quite different circumstances in Dallas during the Great Depression and World War II years. There was an air of urgency to learn and grow up, he said.

“I didn’t know I could write until I was encouraged by various teachers. These teachers imparted their respect for knowledge to many of their students.” Segal visits several of these teachers when he visits Dallas.

He credits Mary Smith Clark, his high school journalism teacher, with making him the “hard-bitten journalist I became later in my professional career.”

Tall, robust Rev. Sean Flanagan of St. Catherine of Siena Catholic Church in Reseda, recounts in a gentle, loving way his youth in Ballaghaderreen, Western Ireland. He shares a map and a local newspaper of his distant homeland. He expresses pride in his church day school and its lay faculty.

It was different in Ireland. A series of priest-teachers helped Flanagan, who

lost his mother when he was 9.

One who stood out, said Flanagan, was Brother Gregory: “He could tell from the back of my head when I was in a bad place. He had a knack for knowing my childhood moods.”

Another was Mrs. Brennan, who filled Flanagan’s need for mothering when his newly acquired stepmother was too shy and timid to respond to the questions of the growing boy. Brennan is 80 now, and Flanagan visits her whenever he returns to Ireland.

Two years ago with the Christmas holiday season approaching, Flanagan felt intensely lonely for his family and friends in Ireland. To free himself from self-pity, he explained, he wrote a gratitude list to include all of his personal blessings and successes in his professional life.

In between police business and a hectic office schedule, silver-haired, Capt. Diane Harber, LAPD commanding officer, West Valley Field Services Division, described the two-room schoolhouse she attended in River Heights, Utah.

Ruling over the schoolhouse was a teacher named Mr. Lowe, who left a valuable impression on Harber. The town was so small that he taught all subjects to students in grades one through four. Harber recalled that, as with all her teachers, “the one most difficult to please was the one I was most anxious to please.”

She said she is convinced that teachers today still have the power to direct and mold, and perhaps even lower the number of troubled kids who run afoul of the law.

Construction noise in the huge Kaiser Permanente Medical Center in Woodland Hills can be heard outside the office of Joseph Ruderman M.D., associate medical director. But it doesn’t prevent a visitor from feeling the presence of Ruderman’s high school teacher, Mr. Walker, as he is described.

Walker, said Ruderman, loved the English language written and spoken, and made his students participate in the drama club whether they were talented or not. While he admits he was no budding thespian, a mandatory trip to see Sir Laurence Olivier perform in a Shakespearean drama at a local theater in Trenton, N.J., remains a special event in Ruderman’s life.

Ruderman also credits his history teacher, Mrs. Muncee, with inspiring him during his high school years. Mrs. Muncee had the characteristics shared by many teachers considered to be inspirers.

“She was firm and demanding,” he said. “She taught us how to think through open-ended discussions.” And, best of all, “She was never pedantic.”

Dr. James Moody, an imposing, youthful 59-year-old who is senior pastor of the First Baptist Church of Van Nuys, describes his professional and personal mentor, English teacher, Sybil Goldsmith.

Moody, who lives in Chatsworth, was raised in Texas, and encountered Goldsmith in high school in the town of Wharton. Goldsmith was determined to teach proper grammar and usage to her “Texans,” and memorization of passages from Chaucer was her chosen vehicle. Forty years later, the 88-year-old Goldsmith listened to her students recite those same lines flawlessly at a class reunion. Moody was one of them.

It is due to the wise guidance of Goldsmith, Moody said, that he chose to enter the ministry. Her influence remains with him. “Public school teachers who stay with those kids are our last heroes,” he said.

Angels’ announcer Ron Fairly, 47, was born in Macon, Ga., but educated in the Long Beach city schools and at USC. Fairly now lives in Calabasas and is involved in the education of his own children.

He credited several teachers for influencing him while growing up. “All of my teachers contributed in molding their students into good citizens in the community,” he said, diplomatically. “They taught, they didn’t supervise. And we learned.”

The most influential teacher he had, Fairly said, was Mrs. Cove. “She was strict, but fair. I couldn’t get away with anything. If I didn’t do the work, I was punished.

“The fear factor worked, I guess,” he said. “She was one of the best teachers I ever had.”

Fairly’s biology teacher, Bob Harvey, would compliment his work, “then demand more. He was a challenge to satisfy.”

High school teacher Ben Palmgren taught Fairly teamwork, he said, while George “Shorty” Kellogg, an instructor at the Long Beach Y, “taught me to accept criticism as well as praise.”