Mr. Determan has Died

Mr. Determan has died. This is what a friend told me the last time I visited Flint.

I wish I hadn’t lost touch with him, that I had told him thank you for saving my junior high years. As the principal, he looked out for hundreds of kids. But he noticed me, a country girl from the mountains trying to fit in with city kids at a big school.

He could tell I needed a place, and he gave me one—in his office. I filed papers for him and answered the telephone and pulled students out of class when he needed to see them. And little by little, I learned to walk the halls with my back tall and my shoulders square and a smile on my face.

One afternoon Mr. Determan asked if I’d be willing to run the elementary school office for the afternoon. The secretary was sick, the elementary school principal was at a state meeting, and they couldn’t find a substitute.

“Call me if you can’t figure something out,” Mr. Determan said, and I caught a challenge in his eyes.

I ran the elementary office, but without calling Mr. Determan.

This is my first day to work for a school, I kept thinking all day. Maybe I can make things happen. Maybe I can be a teacher.

A few weeks later, my dad handed me an envelope that had come in the mail. Inside was a check from the Bendle School District–$25 for running the elementary school office. This seemed a fortune, and I used it to start my college fund.

The money didn’t go far, of course. But Mr. Determan’s intervention did. In those fraught junior high years when I was spiraling down, Mr. Determan caught me.

You can be different, he helped me see, and still find your way.

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