“When we pulled in the driveway the boy’s father came out on the front porch with a shotgun.”
— Paul Gibson
Paul Gibson remembers his very first day on the job as a new principal. It might be more appropriate to say his first day not on the job as a principal. “I spent the day with my dad at our favorite fishing spot on Blue River. We had a great day and when I got home my wife informed me that several people had called asking where I was.” There had been a mix up on the dates. “Lo and behold I had skipped school on my first day as principal.”
He continues, “When I told my dad he laughed so loud. He really enjoyed telling that story. I must say I was embarrassed but had no regrets. It was the last day I ever spent with him on Blue River. He was diagnosed with cancer shortly thereafter and a little over a year later he was gone.”
Paul Gibson enjoyed a 37-year career in education. He has captured much of that career and more of his life in a book of memoirs titled, “School Days Were Happy Days!”
Paul was armed with a new degree and was excited about finding a lucrative career. “Unfortunately, I found out that “good” jobs were not out there waiting for me.” He did qualify for a teaching job. His first job was at Middle Road Elementary School for the extraordinary salary of $4,250/year. He figured he would teach until that lucrative job came along. It eventually did, but that is getting ahead of the story by about 36 years.
Paul ‘s career spans decades and a lot of history and social change. Not many teachers or principals remember the days when a teacher or administrator had to accompany an elementary student to the outhouse so they would not fall in. He laughs when telling me, “Those kids from the country schools couldn’t believe New Washington Elementary School had indoor plumbing!” That was way back in the year 1972!
One afternoon Paul and his truant officer had an armed standoff trying to get a child when he preferred working on the family farm. Paul told me, “I found myself standing between a shotgun and a pistol.”
Those of us over a certain age certainly can relate to Principal Gibson attempting a layup while playing Donkey Basketball in the school gym. Unfortunately, Paul found out mid-game his donkey was specially trained!
Corporal punishment was the norm during Paul’s career. His paddle was always on display, and it was often referred to as the Board of Education. He recalls it as rarely being used except for mostly when the kids came to the principal’s office on their birthday to get a “soft lick.” Afterwards they got to sign their name. He still has the paddle.
The thing that is abundantly clear when reading Paul’s memories is that he always tried to make kids enjoy education. One year at Wilson to help the kids learn geography he drew the map of the United States to scale on paper and when painted, it covered the entire parking lot. Kids would be asked to walk over to a certain state and even some could approximate the location of the state’s capital.
He once held a teacher-parent conference on a working combine with the father of a student on their farm.
While Paul highlights his own career, he also honors other special educators, bus drivers and custodians during his trip down Memory Lane. He recalls being principal at one school and the 85-year old custodian always had the keys to let him in the building.
Paul’s life also is full of stories about his other passions that included traveling and buying and restoring classic cars. For years he drove his antique and classic automobiles in parades around Southern Indiana.
Mostly Paul now loves spending time with his family, including his wife, the former Donna Lamb, and sons Dr. Timothy Gibson DMD and Cary, who retired from the U.S. Air Force and the VA hospital. There are also grandkids and the like.
As I alluded to earlier, after Paul’s years as a teacher, coach, principal and administrator, he thought he would retire. He then spent time as a financial adviser in a program that deducted payroll matches for variable annuities in schools, hospitals and nursing homes. “I always wanted to prove that I could be successful in another career and I thought this just might be it.” After five “very good” years, Paul Gibson retired for the second time and for good.
I found Paul’s book to be very entertaining and a light read. There were names I recognized and enlightening stories about the consolidating of the old country schools. For many it will be a trip from the past. For others, a bit of Southern Indiana history told by a man who not only lived it, but also in some cases was a part of making it.
While I have shared a few of my favorite anecdotes there are many more I think you will enjoy. One of my favorites involved Bob Hope and Paul Gibson playing a practical joke on old Davy Crockett himself, television actor Fess Parker.
There is also a reason Paul received his class Valedictorian Award three decades after he graduated high school and the award is a statue of a girl.
There are some neat archive photos of people and sports teams to supplement the narratives.
I talked with Paul this week and he told me what his other working title was: “Life Is A Field Trip And I Am Not Done Yet!”
If anyone would like to order a copy, you can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Or contact me and I will hook you up with Paul.