Honoring the Great DGB
"They might not need me- yet they might- I’ll let my Heart be just in sight- A smile so small as mine might be Precisely their necessity- - Emily Dickinson Throughout the month of May teachers will be honored throughout schools everywhere. There will be flowers, candy, plants, and notes of appreciation given to teachers. Reflecting upon past teachers, I suppose we can all recall those whom ignited the love of learning within us or lent a helping hand when it mattered most. However, the greater question is: " what sets the good teachers apart from the well not so good? What typifies a great teacher? Is it his or her love of students or is it his or her passion for the subject matter? I believe it is the combination of the two. Not so long ago, I had the opportunity to the sit in the presence of one such great teacher, and he possessed both. It has been 30 years since I last sat in his classroom for AP English, and yet I approached his residence with the same swirling of butterflies in the pit of my stomach – Douglas Bonzo- the great DGB. Upon entering the door of his modest home, the butterflies left and I was immediately at home. His gathering room mirrored his classroom that I once so dearly loved. There were books everywhere, paintings, pictures of his grandchildren, figurines, an antique organ, and a computer which I might mention he pointed out was only for the use of church work and to email his son. He excused himself momentarily as the buzzer beeped in the kitchen. Fresh rolls were coming out of the oven and he had Navy Bean soup on the stove. His beloved companion, Loraine passed away in 2000. He candidly added when speaking of her, "I’m sure you tasted her divinity." and then commenting on his domestic side, "if you want to eat, you have to learn to cook." I found myself at home in his presence and smiling. I was feeling the magic again... that same magic he created in his classroom. It was truly a wonderful place to be. My love of learning was ignited and his acceptance of me I always felt. And then he began quoting her- Emily Dickinson. I had forgotten how much I had missed "her" but more than that, I missed the way he read her poetry. I became transformed to a different time and place as he read the poetry that I too had long ago fallen in love with and I joined him in the recitation, "Success is counted sweetest/ by those who ne’er succeed..." " You know Amy, teachers are born." His teaching philosophy consisted of what he coined as the "Four F’s": firm, fair, friendly, and flexible. On his bookshelf, he had several copies of Tuesdays with Morrie. He said that the book captured his vision of teaching. "Why so many copies," I asked. He responded, " I give a copy to visitors who have not yet read it." Mr. Douglas Bonzo, affectionately known by his students as DGB (incidentally, I might add that his license plate bears these letters.) taught school at Cedar High School for 29 years, 12 years at SUU, one year in Tooele, and 2 years in California. He graduated from BYU with a BS where he majored in political science and minored in English and then attended the University of Southern California on the prestigious Ford Fellowship, and then went on to receive his Master’s Degree from the University of Illinois. It was at BYU in 1958 that he fell in love with Emily Dickinson and upon receiving the Ford Fellowship he switched educational gears. Changing directions from a career in political service, to one in education. However, looking back, he recalls that it was at the age of 16 while serving in his church that he knew he was to be a teacher. He has led the life of a devoted teacher. He lived on a teacher’s salary- he gave up money to teach. Commenting on the present direction of education he commented, " a good teacher you couldn’t pay enough money... a bad teacher shouldn’t be in the classroom." He has taught athletes, musicians and scholars and he has truly loved them all. When commenting upon his years in education, he chuckled while saying, " I have taught everyone, or they are from Delta." DGB was both liked and disliked by his students. Most great teachers are. Unfortunately, those who did not love "DGB" missed out on a great gemstone, and an even greater opportunity to learn. Mr Bonzo recounted that several times he went to a student’s home and dragged him or her back to class. There are students who failed many classes, but not DGB’s. "If you fail a student, you have failed as a teacher," he said. And if his devotion in the classroom were not it enough, couple it with his 30 to 40 years of service in the community and in his church. His service credentials cite positions on various committees and boards including: The Sterling Scholar Board, The Library Board, The SUU Executive Committee, the Bicentennial Committee, and the Art Committee just to name a few. However, he seemed most at home with his half of decade service at Fiddler’s Elementary where he took the best and brightest third graders and taught them the elements of the novel. He also served our nation in the Air Force for three years, nine months, and one day as a Chaplain’s assistant, and he served a mission for the LDS church in France and the Northwestern States. He continues to journal and of course converses with " his friends" or books through reading. When I asked if he had a favorite, he responded, "One like me doesn’t have a favorite book. I am an eclectic reader." He then rattled off names and authors. Some of the authors names I was shocked by such as Crichton and Grisham. Other such as Tolkien, Shakespeare, Bronte, and Alcott, I was not. I remember him handing a list of authors and their works to me as one of his AP students. The list read, "The Top 100 books of the Best Read Seniors"- the year was 1992. I wonder how many of those books I could cross off now. I then began to mentally cross off my own list as he named some of his most recent reads including: Three Cups of Tea, The Tale of Despearaux, Continuous Atonement, The Last Symbol, The Apology, The Hobbit, Little Men, and Madame Bovary. I might add that I did not do so shabby. Mr. Bonzo admitted that he was even a fan of Harry Potter and loved Orson Scott Card’s science fiction. However, he believes that Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings remains to be an absolute phenomena. While he loves Emily Dickinson, he does enjoy Robert Frost, but his preference lies with Russian authors. I sat in his "classroom" on rare but warm spring day, and he continued to teach me. Again years later, I still have absolute respect for this man. His demeanor commands it and his teaching deserves it. I needed you Mr. Bonzo and your smile was indeed my necessity. I find it only fitting to end with words from Emily, " If you were coming in the fall,/ I’d brush the summer by...."
Author’s Note: Inspired by “DGB, my freshmen English teacher (my mother, Janet Weaver) and SUU’s Masterful David Lee, I returned to the classroom last fall after a 23 three year sabbatical,( I enjoyed the privilege of being a stay at home mom of five great kids) to teach Junior and Senior English and Student Government. I absolutely love what I get to do every day.