Mr. Elmoe Drilling was an extraordinary teacher. He gave much to this world and asked for little in return. Even in his senior years he was gratuitous and humble. A role model for all teachers.
I recently crossed paths with the daughter of one of my favorite high school teachers. We shared a very pleasant conversation and I was glad to hear that Mr. Drilling was still around. “He’s living in the Brothers of Mercy Home and would love to have you visit,” she added, “and his long term memory is generally fine.” She suggested I bring my High School yearbook to help trigger his memory.
It’s hard to believe that 41 years have passed since my high school days. This chance meeting caused me to recall my fond memories of this important time in my life. I was fortunate to have teachers who believed in me when I had doubts, guided me when I strayed. Mr. Drilling stands out among this group. He was a strong influence in my life and I looked forward to telling him how much he meant to me.
Mr. Drilling was built like football lineman. His gait appeared to be affected by his own football years. I remember his herringbone suit jacket and closely cropped hair. His round face and dark rimmed glasses would make for a great caricature. He had a unique look.
At Bishop Ryan High School, Mr. Drilling taught math, coached football and baseball. During the basketball season he worked the stat book and the time clock. Like many of his professional colleagues, duties extended beyond the teaching day and school year. I recall that he worked summers striping parking lots. He was committed to his work and willingly accepted less pay working in a parochial school because he believed in what he was doing.
He was a no nonsense type of guy but also knew how to laugh and share a story. He boosted our confidence when needed and provided direction when necessary. Both his teaching and his coaching were always well planned and on time. Football practice ran like clockwork but he always took the time to point out exceptional play or use that “teachable moment.” Mr. Drilling was all class. You never had to worry about being “dressed down.” He showed respect and he was given respect in return.
I planned my visit by hunting down my high school memory box. I found the yearbooks, sports sweater, sports letters and a few newspaper articles.
I also spent considerable time searching my memory of this special time in my life. This “memory walk” allowed me to remember how Mr. Drilling was always upbeat, positive and serious about his subject matter.
I packed up my memorabilia bag and headed to Buffalo. Of course I included a few loaves of Honey Wheat Bread. His daughter told him to expect a visitor and the staff of the nursing home gave me a warm greeting. Moe, he let us call him by his first name on the football field, was sitting tall in his chair, showing a warm smile and drinking a cup of coffee.
We talked about how Bishop Ryan High School was a very special place and regretted that it closed in 1973. We leafed through the 1968 Ryanlight and he beamed with pride. He recalled many of the students from over 40 years ago and grieved the death of some of his colleagues. Mr. Drilling’s room displayed many memories of his teaching and coaching career. He showed great pride in pointing out the pictures of his loving family. Even in these later years, he was gracious, positive and the perfect gentleman, just as I remembered him.
“I want you to know that you were a great teacher and I appreciate everything you did for me.” I added, “You were my role model and the best example of what every teacher should be.” As expected, he acknowledged but minimized my comments in a humbling way. He stated, “Bishop Ryan High School was a special place with exceptional people.” I was so pleased that we had the chance to see each other. He told me that he would take the bread home and share it with his family.
I can’t say for sure if Mr. Drilling remembered me, or if he took the loaf of bread home, but that was of little concern. This man taught for over 30 years and shared his life with thousands of students. It was sad to see a mind that served him so well now beginning to fail him.
My visit was a success. I expressed my gratitude to Mr. Drilling and the entire event reminded me of all the teachers that influenced my life. Saying thanks is important, even after 40 years. Don’t pass on an opportunity to say thank you to someone important in your life, it may never come again.
Mr. Elmoe Drilling died in June of 2009. His passing is a great loss. It puts a tear in my eye and a feeling of warmth in my heart. He will be missed. Thank you Mr. Drilling and all the teachers in the world!
Honey Wheat Bread will forever be Mr. Drillings bread.