LEWISBURG — When Andrew Nicholls, a 2022 graduate of Lewisburg Area High School, spoke about his French teacher, William Fennell, who is retiring after 42 years, Nicholls described Fennell as a friendly instructor who made learning fun.
At the end of the conversation, Nicholls added, “Ask him about his travels. He and his wife have traveled everywhere and have many stories.
Fennell laughed when told this and said his students always wanted to have what they dubbed “Fennell Fridays”, where they asked him to talk about his travels. In fact, when Notre Dame Cathedral burned down in 2019, children rushed to his classroom to tell him, knowing he and Ms Fennell were there. Even some of his students who had graduated sent a sympathetic email.
These scenes illustrate Fennell’s belief in the importance of the “human element” of education. Aware of how some teachers had sparked his own interests, he always tried not only to convey the subject, but to share his passion for it in the hopes that it might inspire students to build lives that they love as much as Fennell loves his.
“The human element of teaching has become really evident with COVID,” he said. “Online teaching can be effective, but one-to-one and classroom interaction is more difficult to achieve.”
Find careers to love
After graduating from Bucknell University with degrees in English and French, Fennell saw “A Chorus Line” on Broadway. The song “What I Did for Love” made him realize that what he really wanted to do was teach. He earned his teaching certificate and started in Lewisburg in January 1980, teaching first English and American Literature and eventually French.
“I remember when I got one of my first paychecks, I was amazed that I could get paid for the joy of teaching Shakespeare’s ‘Romeo and Juliet,'” he said. at a school board meeting honoring retirees.
Fennell’s wife, Vicki Fennell, was hired as a guidance counselor at Lewisburg High School shortly after their marriage in the 1990s. She also retired that year, after 29 years of service at Lewisburg. The students called their departure the end of the “Fennell era”. Mrs Fennell praised her husband’s commitment, noting that he taught the children of former pupils.
“To spend your whole career in one place…I don’t think a lot of people do that,” she said.
Brian Ulmer, a Lewisburg attorney, was a junior in Mr. Fennell’s English class in 1986-87.
“As a teacher, he was masterful at bringing to life readings that were, in some cases, centuries old. He had a wonderful ability to select works that would be interesting in a modern age,” Ulmer said. “In my opinion, he also got along very well with the student body. He knew everyone, he recognized everyone and he liked everyone, including those students who sometimes went under the radar.
then and now
In 2016, Lewisburg Area High School moved to a brand new building outside of town. Having taught at the Market Street building for almost 37 years, Mr Fennell was asked to share some memories which eventually made it into a ‘My Turn’ column in ‘The Daily Item’ that year.
He remembers being interviewed in 1980 by Dr. Joseph Roy and Dr. Donald Eichhorn, two beloved educators in the history of the school district, as well as being treated kindly by one of his first students, George Drozin, now director of the Donald H. Eichhorn. Intermediate school.
He remembered mimeographed pages, blackboards and chalk, filmstrips and overhead projectors. He mentioned students wearing “preppy” clothes, attending Friday night dances at the gymnasium and playing Trivial Pursuit.
After 42 fulfilling years, he now looks forward to retiring with Mrs. Fennell. They hope to travel but plan to stay in Lewisburg.
“We both wanted to leave while we still loved our jobs,” he said.
Of being a counsellor, Ms Fennell said: ‘I just hope I was a friend to the students and somehow helped them find a future path.
The Fennell era will likely affect students for a long time.
“As someone who went to college and higher education, I carried his method with me throughout my college career,” Ulmer said. “If you paid attention, William Fennell would teach you to write clearly and concisely. It sustained me for years. He is a great educator and a really nice man.
As a parting gift, Mr Fennell’s French 5 students designed and signed a tie – he was known to wear unique ties – which included a quote from Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s ‘Little Prince’.
“I hope I have passed on a love of literature and French language and culture to my students, and that they will continue to explore these interests as adults,” Fennell said. “Likewise, I hope they find a job they do ‘for love’ and find as much meaning in their professional and personal lives as I found at Lewisburg High School.
“Finally, I would like to thank everyone I have met over the past 42 years in high school who have contributed to my wonderful life there.”
Cindy O. Herman lives in Snyder County. Email your comments to [email protected]