Submitted by Frank Fetters
This season I am reminded about what I am thankful for related to my hometown of Lansing, Illinois. Let me count the ways:
- I am thankful to be FROM Lansing, and
- I am thankful to be OF Lansing.
It’s a cliché, I suppose, to say I am thankful to be from Lansing, but I consider that statement to identify that Lansing is where I grew up, and I am grateful that I grew up in Lansing. It was an amazing place, feeling like Illinois yet close enough to Indiana that I could feel a kinship with Hoosiers, too. I have strong childhood memories, living on those maple tree-lined streets and delivering newspapers to those bungalows that folks ordered from Sears & Roebuck. Those houses seemed to cover every block when I was growing up. And I remember that, as I delivered newspapers from the Lansing News Agency, I could see the “two Elmers” up on Ridge Road. Right near the State Line was Elmer Schultz’s gas station on the north side and Elmer Smith’s gas station on the south side of the street. The year may have been 1949 or 1950 when I remember reading the “city limits” sign right there: “LANSING, POP. 1900.”
I am thankful for the education I received there, even though I seemed to fight it all the way to high school graduation. I remember my second grade teacher, Miss Swofford, who later became Mrs. Brown, and my amazing fifth grade teacher, Mr. Roland Clark, at Calvin Coolidge School. And of course, the amazing Miss Ruth Van Weldon, who refused to give up on me when I was actively trying to flunk seventh grade. I weighed a total of 56 pounds back then, and I actually thought flunking would be a good idea because then I would be with kids that were more my size.
When I attended Thornton Fractional High School in Calumet City, I was able to take advantage of my size when I went out for wrestling and met Mr. Jospeh Sowinski, the varsity wrestling coach. I felt, for the first time in my life, that being small wasn’t such a bad idea after all! Joe Sowinski was a role model for me in so many different ways.
When the TF school district divided into TF South and TF North, of course I went to TF South. I am extremely grateful for my other coaches — Earl Davis, Robert J. Phillips, and Ted DeVries — who taught me English, Speech, and Journalism, respectively. They let me participate on the speech team, the dramatic productions, and the high school newspaper. It is difficult for me to describe most teachers I encountered growing up, but what separated these teachers from many of the others is that they inspired me in the classroom. They made me feel that they weren’t just assigning and grading work, but were actively coaching me and inspiring me and everybody else in the room. They inspired me to become the best Frank Fetters I could possibly become. And in my senior year, I became a sports reporter for the original Lansing Journal. The influence these teachers — and several others — had on me allowed me to continue to develop educationally and professionally after I left Lansing. For that, I am extremely grateful.
I know it’s possible to be from a place and still not feel you are of that place. This is pretty much how I felt during my teenage years and later as a young adult. I felt somewhat isolated growing up in Lansing. I would take the South Shore train to Chicago’s Loop, spending time in the Chicago Public Library, the Art Institute (I could spend a whole DAY there!), and even in some neighborhoods like Hyde Park and South Chicago. There was always something in me that wanted to celebrate diversity. I believe to this day that being able to live together with people of other religions, races, cultures, and nationalities is the most important thing we can do to guarantee a promising future for ourselves and for the world.
I did not begrudge my hometown the sense of sameness it seemed to foster, but I wanted more, educationally, artistically, and intellectually. Armed with the skills and intentions I had developed in high school, I joined the United States Marine Corps. My hope was to survive my enlistment and then use the G.I. Bill to gain an education, which I did, picking up a bachelor’s degree in Speech – Communications and a master’s degree in Theatre Arts. Taking those credentials forward, I ended up teaching at a grade school (Special Education for the primary grades), a community college (English Composition), and a university (Adjunct Assistant Professor of Drama). And for twelve years I was a Technical Instructor at the Hanford Nuclear site in Richland, Washington, where I taught classes in General Radio-Chemical Operations and developed and taught classes for the specific job classifications at five different operational plants inside those restricted areas.
Thankful for Lansing today
When I think of my own success, my one regret is that I never taught any classes in Lansing, because the Lansing that exists today inspires me and makes me feel proud that I came from there. This current Lansing, the one that is home to so many people of different backgrounds, is the one I would feel the most comfortable with. I like the ethnic mix and the multi-cultural nature of the community that seems to be everywhere in Lansing now. I am proud to be a member of the TF South Class of 1959, along with Richard Kesler, Karen Walker, Roger Majak, and so many others. I would mention more people from the Class of 1959, but that would just turn into a roll call. I celebrate Lansing’s past as well as Lansing’s future, and I am so glad that I am FROM Lansing yet definitely still OF Lansing!
Frank Fetters, TF South Class of 1959
Currently living in Las Vegas, Nevada, but proud to be from Lansing