It has been the most singularly beautiful thing I have experienced.
It was at a funeral……………………..
When Duane Gohlke died, there was a gathering of his choir students crossing generations. It was one of the saddest days of their lives, but in the end; one of the most beautiful.
At Sherman High School, for more than 30 years, Gohlke welcomed scores of students in order to teach them about music and singing; and………….of course…………life. His trademark ‘lamb chop’ sideburns in place, he was a whiz on the piano and vocal timbre. He could take 100 students or four and make them a choir of powerful harmony and wonderful melody.
His funeral ended – as I sat transfixed – with his gathered students standing in place while singing the song he used to close class – a cappella – “May God Bless You and Keep You.”
The song seemed to go on forever; the melody and the perfect pitch – I know – went through the walls into the world that day. The love and power of a teacher filled the room in the form of a song so alive I can still hear it. What a fitting tribute to a man who dedicated his life to students and the teaching of music.
But Duane’s life and work was only half of the story; his wife, Bobbi, also taught at SHS. As a teacher of English, Spanish and French, she became a de facto ‘partner’ in the choir program as well. That partnership touched young lives in ways most teachers don’t; it interacted with care and concern in and outside of school as the extra-curricular choir traveled and performed; and competed.
It is almost a side note to realize that they were foster parents in addition to their work in school and for the community. It was a sacred endeavor that both took seriously.
Duane and Bobbi Gohlke helped and supported hundreds if not thousands of students at a time in their lives when they needed it the most. But don’t take my word for it; there are former students and colleagues eager to discuss the impact these special teachers had.
Dana Martin Blackwell had the honor of working with both Duane and Bobbi at SHS. She taught social studies for nine years; and routinely dealt with the Gohlkes. She remembers a special couple indeed including the laugher and devotion.
“Duane was a character; he played hard nose, but he had a heart of gold,” said Blackwell, who still teaches locally. “They both had a great sense of humor; and they were both devoted to students. With a team approach, they created magic in the lives of everyone around them.”
Even as Blackwell remembered the variety shows and musicals the Gohlkes helped put on, she also was in awe of the way they held themselves to students.
“Just the character of them; they took people in to help,” recalled Blackwell. “They took new teachers under their wing, even had them over to their home. They kinda adopted them. They were totally immersed in family and school.”
Blackwell recalled that Bobbi was student council sponsor in addition to her classroom duties. Duane took on the extra work of the annual musicals and talent shows; and both took time to counsel students when needed.
“They were top notch people and educators; they had high standards at school and expected students to achieve,” said Blackwell. “I learned a lot from them; what it means to be a good teacher and how to be a professional.”
James Perry still lives in Sherman. He fondly remembers the six years he had with the Gohlkes; his class was in Duane’s choir at Piner Junior High for two years before moving with him to the high school in 1972.
“I remember that Mr. Gohlke was driven; he was focused and knew how to get you to do your best,” said Perry. “He would get you prepared for choir and for life.”
Perry was a self described ‘latch-key kid’ in the 1970s and recalled that the Gohlkes would ‘take students under their wing’ and guide them outside of school. Perry meant ‘They’ when he spoke of the choir program because Bobbi was instrumental in the program if not at school, then on the road and at rehearsals.
“She was supportive of us and the choir; she supported Mr. Gohlke and his work, too,” said Perry. “It was a special partnership; she was a central figure in the choir program.”
Another teacher felt that - even though years separated her time with the Gohlkes to the times of their deaths – ‘It was like we were never apart.’ Carolyn Hensler taught at SHS from 1975-79. She was adamant about ‘the great influence’ the Gohlkes had on her life.
“I felt a special bond with both of them; it was my first teaching job and they were both mentors to me,” said Hensler who now lives in Austin. “I would not have survived if not for them. They welcomed me into their home and their hearts.”
Charla Aldous lives in Dallas now; she was Duane Gohlke’s choir student from 1974-78. She firmly believes that her time in his class was ‘one of the highlights’ of her life.
“He wasn’t just a teacher; he was a mentor,” began Aldous who practices law. “Being in his choir was like being in a family; not just being in school. He had a passion for music, of course, but just as important, he had a passion to help students become productive citizens. He was always someone who had your back.”
Aldous laughed when thinking of those ‘lamp chop sideburns’ and still marvels at his voice and mannerisms she recalls.
“He made an indelible print on my life,” she added.
I was at the funeral that day – not because I was a former student – but because I spent four years as neighbors to the Gohlkes in the late 1980s. I got to know the people – whom I had already met through SHS – as community members and friends. Any and everything that has been said by former colleagues and students applies to their approach to home and family.
I can’t count the times I saw them help someone in need if only a simple gesture. They would bring strangers in their home and give them a meal if that was required; and/or give them shelter for a short while. There was always an offer of support and information to gain self sufficiency. The atmosphere in their home was one of love and acceptance. I remember the laughter and evenings on the front porch simply being neighbors. Our children played together; we watched each other’s houses as needed; and we held garage sales together. It was a good neighborhood anyway, but the Gohlkes made it great!
Bobbi died not too long after Duane as intertwined souls often do. But their legacy of hope and help will remain as long as former students and colleagues (and neighbors) remember; it will probably live long after that as well……………………..
“I think of them often; and a smile comes to my face” said one former student, which echoed the sentiment of almost all.
Thinking back on my memories of the Gohlkes and talking to people affected by their kindness and love reminds me of the role of teacher and what distinguishes some from others. We go through school sitting in a classroom with a guide telling us what to learn, but we go through life with guides who model positive behavior and caring (if we are lucky).
It is without question that a special synergy arises when the two are combined to show us the way in school and in life. For me – and for many others – there is no better example than Duane and Bobbi Gohlke: teachers extraordinaire and guides of the utmost heart.