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The Legacy of a Smile
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Photo: Colin Broug
Twenty-five years in the classroom, at the same school is quite a record for any teacher. Ken Wilson achieved that record, though the last year was a struggle. A diagnosis of Lou Gehrig’s disease (ALS) the year prior to his retirement, took his life a year later.

Passionate about teaching, he knew, before he ever graduated from Ohio’s Mount Vernon Academy, that he wanted to be a teacher of youth. His teaching left imprints but his smile more so because those who saw his smile saw a man acquainted with Jesus.

What of a smile? How important is it?

Our faces are usually the first thing anyone notices about us. Have you noticed that even when you encounter a person with whom you cannot converse, for instance someone who speaks another language, that a smile often suffices?

When my husband and I lived in the Los Angeles area and we worked at White Memorial Medical Center, there was a groundskeeper that did not speak English. He lived close to the hospital and I often admired his beautiful flower garden. For several months, all we exchanged were smiles.

Words He Understood

After mentioning to someone that I felt remiss not being able to converse with this fellow with the broad smile, I was given a flash Spanish lesson: Buenos Dios, Buenos Tardes, Buenos Noches; good morning, good afternoon, good evening. When I greeted him with words he understood, his smile widened. In honor, he bowed to me.

Over time, I met his young grandson. I told him how much I appreciated his grandfather’s hard work and the beautiful flower gardens. I mentioned a particular flower that he grew. One day the boy beckoned, “Grandfather wants you to come to his house. He has flowers he wants to give to the lady with the nice smile.” Our smiles were a two-way communication between us.

He beamed as he dug the flower bulbs and placed them in damp newspapers, wrapped in plastic. He seemed gleeful, as he handed them to me. “Gracias” I said with a smile, overjoyed to get them.

After I planted the bulbs and they came into bloom in my flowerbed, I took pictures to show him. Again, his smile! He was a teacher too, maybe not in a structure of brick and mortar, but simply by working with diligence, making life more beautiful for others, and sharing his smile.

That is how it was with Ken Wilson. After 37 years of teaching, his last year of life found him with impaired walking and speaking, yet his vibrant smile remained. The smile prevailed even when his voice failed completely and he was limited to blinking once for “Yes” and twice for “No.”

His smile was the best lesson he ever taught; he reflected the master teacher, Jesus. Ken’s students loved his smile. A legacy anyone can leave.

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By Betty Kossick. Copyright © 2012 by GraceNotes. All rights reserved. Use of this material is subject to usage guidelines.


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