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Memories are Made of This: Meeting FEG

June 10, 2016

Frank E. Gaebelein

Here is the second installment of recollections from D. Bruce Lockerbie.


I thank Dan Hickey for the invitation to explore my memory bank and recall from six decades of anecdotes about athletes and coaches at The Stony Brook School. Here’s a logical sequel to the first story about the Poly Prep coach who, in 1951, gave me my first pair of track spikes.

59 years ago this spring, I was a brand new husband and rookie teacher and coach at Wheaton College, teaching Freshman English and assisting Gil Dodds—until that very year, still the world’s record holder at the indoor mile—in coaching Wheaton’s track team. One of the runners I coached was the team captain named Jim Hanchett—who had several younger brothers, as I recall. Another was to become the father of David Church. Meanwhile Gil Dodds was also coaching me, and I was enjoying my best season as a world-ranked middle distance runner. But my competing in major meets frequently left my wife alone on the Illinois prairie, homesick for New York.

Whenever at home, in my spare time, I was also engaged in leading a church choir and overseeing the youth program, speaking, or playing the vibraphone to various other audiences in the Chicago area. Barely 21-years-old, I had no fixed idea about my future. I simply knew that I enjoyed everything I was doing.

Late in April 1957, I was summoned by Clyde S. Kilby, the English department chair—who introduced the works of C. S. Lewis to American readers—to discuss continuing my appointment to teach the following year. He made me a grand offer, then countered it by saying, “But I must tell you about a phone call I had today.” A friend named Frank E. Gaebelein had called to ask Kilby if he had a graduating senior who could teach English, coach a sport, and possibly knew something about music. Reluctantly—he assured me—Kilby had given FEG my name.

It wasn’t the first time I’d heard the name Gaebelein or The Stony Brook School. You may recall that my parents had attempted to persuade me to enroll when we moved from Canada to New York, and I had refused. My pastor-father had books by Arno C. Gaebelein in his library. On the day in 1952, when I made my first appearance in the track team’s locker room at New York University, my aged coach Emil von Elling had greeted me with the words, “So, you’re a preacher’s son. That means you won’t run on Sundays. I had a preacher’s son a few years back named Frank Gaebelein. He heads a boys’ school now on Long Island.” True enough: FEG, Class of 1920, had the same NYU track coach as DBL, Class of 1956.

That evening, in 1957, when I told Lory our options, she asked, “Where’s the school?” When I replied, “On Long Island,” the decision was forged. The next day I contacted FEG, who was to be in Chicago the following week. On the appointed day, I picked up Dr. Gaebelein at his Chicago hotel and drove back to Wheaton for dinner at the Tally-Ho Steak House on North Avenue, where Lory met us, then drove him back to Chicago after the meal. We talked freely about the sport we shared. He told me about his youthful exploits in racing students up the length of Chapman Parkway, which I later used as a training venue. I also learned from him how the discipline of running had served him well as a mountaineer. He expressed interest in my hope to become a published writer and told some stories about his own early experience as co-editor of his high school yearbook with E. B. White, author of Charlotte’s Web. During the meal, he was careful to describe the fishbowl nature of boarding school life and explain to my wife and me what we might expect in a residence hall on a campus of teenage boys. He assured us that we would be hearing from him very soon—and he hoped that we would accept the opportunity he would present.

His letter followed the next week, offering the position as teacher of English, director of The King’s Men (a choir formerly led by the renowned soloist Frank Boggs), and general factotum in the grand tradition of a boarding school resident master. The salary would be $2,400 plus housing, food when the School was in session, and the blessing of his personal encouragement in all aspects of my calling.

I know that on the day I first met FEG—almost 60 years ago—I had only a scattered sense of what that calling might be. But the immeasurable benefit of his encouragement took on several forms, including his editorial eye over my early manuscripts, his critique of a talk I was preparing to give on some occasion, his confidence that I could stand in Hegeman Chapel one morning each week for several weeks and train the entire student body and faculty to sing a choral work in four-part harmony.

Only once—and for valid reasons—did he refuse my request: In 1962, I’d been chosen to represent the USA on an athletic tour of several African nations celebrating their new independence. FEG noted that my absence would come at a critical time in the school calendar, be a burden to colleagues who would have to substitute during my junket, and not be tolerated by my students or their parents—plus he worried that I might contract some tropical fever. His wife Dorothy told me later that he had wept over his necessary decision.

In retrospect, I realize that, upon accepting FEG’s appointment, I was able to bring into one focus all my youthful affinities and possible gifts: teaching, coaching, making music, occasional public speaking, and writing, while maturing myself among younger men and women over those 34 years. In return, from many of you who read this reminiscence, we received the great gift of your joy in living and showing us that Character is indeed more important than Career.



One Comment leave one →
  1. June 10, 2016 12:19 PM

    What a great read! Thank you DBL for sharing a part of your amazing journey with us. Your long history with SBS has touched and been an inspiration for so many of us. And just as others led you and your family to SBS – so too did your family help lead ours to the same place.

    Lori and my Mom were dear friends and colleagues at Mount Elementary School where Lori was the school nurse and my Mom was the 3 Village School District Pediatrician. Between their friendship and the influence of my 5th grade teacher – Joan Strong (wife of Bill ’54 and mother of Scott ’78 and Billy ’80) – I was destined to go to SBS!

    One of the first Seniors I met was DBL II. He had instructions to “look out for me” and as a 7th grader, you couldn’t have asked for a better big brother than BMOC Don Lockerbie. We both reside in South Florida now, and even today – Donnie and I communicate frequently and discuss our love and affinity for all things SBS.

    I look forward to the next chapter from your journey!

    Big Hug to you and Lori from the Vega Clan!


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