by Dr. Ronald E. Milliman
All of my friends were in Sturgis, kids I had known since kindergarten. My whole life, all 12 years of it, was in Sturgis, Mich. My girlfriend, Kathy, was in Sturgis. All the guys I hung out with were in Sturgis.
I was struggling trying to keep up in school. My eyesight wasn’t very good, since I’d contracted Stevens-Johnson syndrome when I was 8. I could see perfectly when I went into the hospital, but when I came out several weeks later, I couldn’t see very well anymore.
I worked really hard and struggled my way through the 6th grade. I couldn’t see the chalkboard, and it was getting really difficult, especially the math. My teacher, Mrs. Carter, suggested she and the school’s principal, Mrs. Martin, meet with my parents to discuss my situation. They all met in the principal’s office, but I was not included. When my parents got home, they said, “Ronnie, we need to talk to you.” I could tell from their tone of voice that it was serious. That was the tone I usually heard when I was in big trouble!
They said, “We just had an important meeting with your teacher, Mrs. Carter, and your school’s principal, Mrs. Martin, and we all agreed that it is time for you to go to a special school for kids like you.” My reaction was: “What do you mean, ‘kids like me?’ What have I done that is so bad that I have to go to a special school?” I thought they were sending me to reform school for really bad kids. I hadn’t done anything that bad. Oh, I sat behind Kathy and pulled her hair a few times. And I listened in on Linda and Joanne over our phone’s party line, but that didn’t have anything to do with school.
My parents continued by telling me that they felt I needed to go to a school for blind kids up in Lansing, Mich. I was shocked! I never thought of myself as being blind. I proclaimed, “I’m not blind! I can see.” I started crying, and through my tears, I said, “I’ll try harder! I’ll work harder, but I’m not going to any blind school!” If that’s what they were going to do, I’d just pack up and live with Grandma. She wouldn’t send me to some dumb blind school!
Well, I ended up going to that stupid blind school. I started in the 7th grade at the Michigan State School for the Blind, and it was a difficult adjustment. I rebelled. In hindsight, I guess I was an instigator, getting the whole class of 7th grade boys to create all kinds of hell. We got Butch to throw a chair out of a window on the 3rd floor of the school building. We got caught smoking in the science room. We created disturbances in the library. It was the last straw when I talked back to Mr. Flanigan, our homeroom teacher, and told him to “shove it up his [rear]!” He grabbed me up out of my chair and marched me down to the principal’s office. Now I was in real trouble. I had to call my dad at work and tell him that he needed to come and pick me up because I was getting an extra vacation from school. I didn’t want to tell him that I was getting kicked out. So, I thought telling him that I was just getting an extra vacation was a more tactful way of putting it. He didn’t fall for it. He asked, “Where are you?” I told him that I was a guest of Mrs. Zewarrenstein, our school principal. He said, “Put her on the phone.” I handed the phone to Mrs. Zewarrenstein, and she informed my dad that I was being expelled for a while and that he needed to come up and get me.
It was almost 100 miles from Sturgis up to Lansing. My dad had to drop everything he was doing and drive all the way up to Lansing to get me. I had to sit in the principal’s office until school was out. I kept thinking, “What am I going to tell my dad when he gets here?” and “Oh, man, is he going to be mad!” and, “Am I in big trouble now!”
It was late that afternoon when Dad finally got there, and he didn’t seem all that mad. Oh, I could tell that he was not really happy, and we weren’t headed out for a big celebration, but he seemed a lot calmer than I expected.
I went on my “extra vacation” a couple of weeks before our Christmas vacation. I was allowed back in school after the Christmas break. I was a bit more under control after my extra vacation. My parents never did yell at me or say very much about it. I guess they could just tell from the terrified look on my face when Dad picked me up that getting kicked out of school was a learning experience for me.
The school’s administration decided that the best thing to do with my class to control the situation was to break it up — not the girls, just the guys. Some of the guys got moved down a grade level, and one of the fellows got moved up one grade level. They probably didn’t know what to do with me. (I was a straight-A student, believe it or not.) What the administration did must have worked because we didn’t create nearly as much hell after that.
Mr. Flanigan actually became my most favorite teacher. Not because he was the best teacher; he wasn’t, but he was the teacher a kid could feel comfortable with when you were having personal issues that you needed someone to talk to about. Mr. Flanigan imparted something to me that I have never forgotten. I was having some kind of really serious problem, probably a girl issue of some sort. Mr. Flanigan told me, “Remember this for the rest of your life: if you are worried about something you can’t really do anything about, just forget it, drop it; after all, there is no point in worrying over stuff you can’t do anything about. But if you are worrying and upset about something you can do something about, then get off your [rear] and do something; get it taken care of.” That has stuck with me all these years and was some of the best advice I ever received.
Mr. Flanigan died several years ago. So did our English teacher, Mrs. Peterson, and our math teacher, Mr. Newman, our science teacher and wrestling coach, Mr. Hetherington, and most of the other teachers and administrators that made such a major contribution to our lives. We didn’t appreciate it at the time. But all of us now, when we think about our experiences at the Michigan School for the Blind, have fond memories. My class, the graduating class of 1962, was an exceptionally close group. We have held a class reunion every five years since our graduation. We started out as a class of 19 kids. Over the years, we have lost several of our classmates; now we are a group of 10. When we get together, we reminisce over the good old days at MSB and share our appreciation of the education we received and our love for that stupid school for the blind! Because of that great fundamental education in English, math, science, social studies, history, and government, and what we learned from our experiences in music and sports, it allowed us to go on to be positive contributors to our communities. In my case, it allowed me to have an extremely rewarding career in business and as a university professor. I am, and shall always be, eternally thankful!