Bring Back Ben and Bob

Bring Back Ben and Bob

A Sign of the Times

Regardless of whether or not a baby boomer was a true hippie, you can bet they were exposed to some far-out thinking back in the late sixties and early seventies. Television, the movies and the newspapers covered controversial issues like Viet Nam war protestors, equal rights marches and draft card burners daily.

Males wearing their hair long, sporting huge bell-bottoms and side burns as long as a horse’s leg were definitely the “in thing” - so were flannel shirts, beards and US Army jackets.  Women burned their bras in public and the free love movement on the west coast was in full swing.

America’s young adults celebrated man’s landing on the moon, but also protested at Kent State University in Ohio when four co-eds were shot and killed (by the Ohio National Guard) because of alleged violent actions of dissent.  Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young saw to it that the day would never be forgotten.

Regardless of one’s attempt to stay neutral during this contentious time, it was almost impossible not to be a tad anti-establishment. And if you trusted anyone over 30, you were basically a fool.

I won’t get into how many of the above characteristics fit me or my persona in 1974. Let’s just say I was smart enough to modify my looks and mannerisms for my job interviews (even though it was the summer following my graduation from college and yes, I was a product of the times).

An Interview with The Man

I was fortunate to schedule a couple of different interviews and receive a few employment offers.  However, memories of my first meeting with Doctor Benjamin F. Van Horn, Superintendent of Schools in the Northern Bedford County School District, will always remain with me.   I was so frightened by his interrogation, the effects of his cross-examination almost did NOT stay with me. If not for a huge chug of Kaopectate in the car after the grilling, I may have had an accident on the way home. Pardon my language but the man (a former Captain in the US Army) scared the crap out of me.
     Dr. Ben F. Van Horn
Doc, as we referred to him in the faculty room when he wasn’t around, was the epitome of The Boss Man, running the show entirely from the top down in the rural school district.  He took orders from no one.  And he terrified this 22-year-old to the point that I totally forgot all recollections of the protesting nature of the times.  Was I anti-establishment? No, not anymoreI!

A half decent impression

The answers given during my interview must have struck the correct chord with Doc because I received a call a few days later indicating I was his selection as the new junior high science teacher, head track coach and assistant football coach.  Almost immediately I started to hear stories about Doc as I met more and more colleagues employed in the district at the time. For instance …..

The time the current Spanish teacher tried opening the faculty room door during school hours one day. The door was locked and a sign hanging on the hall side of the door stated, “Faculty Room Closed Today – Interviewing New Spanish Teacher”.

Or the time the track coach I eventually replaced made an appointment to talk to Doc Van Horn about possibly resigning as the coach, but retaining his teaching position. Not only did Mike McCahan depart that meeting still employed as the head track coach, but he was ordered to get a haircut too.   

Or the time I left a large stack of papers on the window sill in my room after dismissal. I also forgot to close the window and a gust of wind tossed the pile like confetti all over the floor. I heard an announcement over the P.A. system from Doc himself as I was leaving the building, “Mr. Potchak, please report back to your room if you’re still in the building. There’s some cleaning that needs done up there.”

You don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone

Second in command in the district at the time was Robert St. Clair, High School Principal. He handled his duties pretty much the same way – a no nonsense approach. There were times we felt badly for reporting students to the office for fear of the punishment they might receive.  Both students and teachers knew Saint meant business.  

Robert St. Clair
Little was left for discussion with both Doc and Saint – you knew where you stood from the get-go.  At times faculty and staff discussions would involve dreams of the day when Ben and Bob might retire and we looked forward to experiencing new leadership in the school district.

Beware of the old adage…. “You just might get what you wish for.”

It’s not that the next administration was unqualified or incompetent. In fact, the new men at the helm continued to run the district in a very effective and professional manner. But, not long after the departure of Doc and Saint, I was one of the faculty members forming mental designs of tee shirts, proclaiming, “Bring Back Ben and Bob.”

The teachers knew full-well that the two retired administrators would never return to their jobs, but we missed the era as much as we missed the men.  They were the first to have faith in this old teacher and coach and I remain grateful to both today.

On occasions when I meet former colleagues, we’ll invariably begin to reminisce.  More often than not those tee shirt designs and logos will be brought up in the conversation, and smiles and fond memories always follow.

Interested readers will find another story about Bob St.Clair’s passing by clicking this link: 



My Roots - The Potchaks - circa 1927

My Roots - The Potchaks - circa 1927
From Left: Son, Steve - Dad, Frank - Mom, Anastasia (Makar) - Sons; John, Mike, Frank, Chuck (Author's Dad) - Twins, Pete & Mary - Daughter, Catherine. Photo taken in Wilmore, PA