- Associated Press - Saturday, August 27, 2016

MOUNTAIN IRON, Minn. (AP) - Richard Roach, former longtime English teacher in Gilbert, put the following message on Facebook on June 1:

“Hey, ex-Gilbert students. I need your help with a project that I am starting. Since I retired in 1993, I have returned hundreds and hundreds of autobiographies to my former students, mostly at their reunions. However, I will never live long enough to return all of the ones that I still have. So I just have to do things differently. I am going to put lists on Facebook and if they will send me self-addressed stamped envelopes, I will mail them to them. I know that will cause a few problems as the lists are bound to include the names of some who have passed on, but I will do the best that I can… Please pass on the names to folks who might know these people… Please tell them to mention what list they were on, or it will take me forever… I will soon be 80 years old.”

Roach has been deluged with positive responses via Facebook and in letters, the Mesabi Daily News (https://bit.ly/2bzKqsi ) reported.

“That’s a great idea!” said Judy Fink on Facebook.

“How fun,” wrote Jill Wirtanen.

“It was such a wonderful surprise,” Rene Erchul Lind said.

“You were an awesome teacher,” Jeanette Hageman said.

“My brother Duane has passed on, but I will get in contact with his daughter and see if she would like the autobiography,” David Gibson said.

In an interview at the newspaper office, Roach said, “I have hundreds of them like that.” One day more than 30 letters arrived in Roach’s mail, and he set about returning more stories.

Roach started the autobiography project with his first year of teaching in Coleraine back in 1959-1960 - his first students are now 71 years old. He taught in Gilbert more than 30 years. He would have his students write their life stories when they were in the seventh grade, and each year until they graduated. He figures that adds up to nearly 4,000 stories, all of them kept in file folders at his home. He has compiled lists of the student’s names and he numbers the lists for easier reference.

Roach brought with him some examples.

Sarah Schultz Norton wrote to Roach: “Did you know my dad, Lawrence ‘Larry’ Schultz? He died 10 years ago. He was just 56 years old. Sometimes we don’t get the opportunity to ask questions about people we love. I never knew my dad wanted to be a teacher. He wanted his children to be educated. It was so lovely to receive this gift and learn things about my dad… getting to have a conversation with him… Again, that means more to me… than I can express. I wanted to write to you… you made a huge impact on your students and their families. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for giving me this piece of my dad back whom I miss every day.”

Some of the most poignant letters have been from people in their 70s requesting the autobiographies written by their children who have died. “I have kept these for since 1959-60. I just couldn’t get rid of them. Since I retired, I’ve been returning them at class reunions.” He enjoys seeing the comments on Facebook, he said. “It makes you feel good. I just had the papers in boxes. It grows each time they tell their friends.”

He took from a stack of seventh grade autographies this one from David Angeloni: “I live in Gilbert, Minnesota. I have one mom and one dad. I have two sisters and one brother. My home life is great because I have everything that I want. I live on Minnesota two houses down from Hogan’s gas station. My dad’s name is Reno Angeloni. He works for J&L; Steel… I have a pet bird and all they do is squeak and eat but they are OK. School is all right some of the time. I hope Mr. Roach will pass me because if I don’t, I will be up the creek.”

From Melissa Johnson: “I live in Hutter. My dad words at Erie Mining Company, but is laid off now. (The year was 1982.) My mom is a housewife. I come from a family of nine girls and one boy from age 11 to 32 … I enjoy sewing, cooking, reading, embroidery, crafts and painting. I belong to Girl Scouts and 4-H. My favorite teacher is Mr. Roach.”

Still others wrote of having 100 cows as pets, becoming the first woman president, owning a farm in North Dakota and becoming a veterinarian, studying to be a psychiatrist. They wrote of embarrassing moments and dancing “with a whole bunch of popular boys.” Another wrote of how much he loved his mother, and “the saddest time in my life was when my grandmother died.”

“No matter how much time it takes, I’m not going to send them out without reading them,” Roach said with a smile. “That’s why it takes time.”

Then he showed another autobiography, from Chris Chad of Eveleth, who wrote fondly of parents Louis and Joanne Chad and his brothers, including 2-year-old Mark. “He is cute, he talks too much and is sometimes a little pest. I love to ski and I have a paper route and clean at the laundromat… I like the Gilbert Junior High and I love my family. I am very happy with how things are going.”

And Roach is happy with the Facebook response from former students wanting their long-ago biographies. “I have 600-some friends now.”


Information from: Mesabi Daily News, https://www.virginiamn.com

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