JT's Blog

Things that interest me, things that happened to me, things that I like, even some things that I don't like...

Mr. Donald Troutman of Sinking Spring, PA

Our ninth grade algebra teacher at Elco was Mr. Donald Troutman, and according to Suzanne Berger, he was related to us, Suzanne having previously informed me that she and I were some sort of distant cousins.

Donald B Troutman in 1963

He turned out to be a pretty good teacher, I thought, as he often assigned projects that weren’t necessarily related to algebra, just so long as they had something to do with some branch of mathematics or at least numbers. I remember doing a chart on large numbers going from billion, trillion, quadrillion, quintillion, sextillion (that would be a one followed by 21 zeros), etc. all the way up to a googol, which was a one followed by 100 zeros.

Mr. Troutman (I call him that because although we were allegedly related, I never knew him from any family gatherings, just as a teacher) only stayed at Elco for that one year. My recollection is a bit hazy after that, as I recall he kept in touch with some of the other students (perhaps Suzanne) and I received some second hand reports. I know he joined the Peace Corps and went to Africa for a year, and I recall hearing that a subsequent class of his at some other school got a kick out of my big number chart.

Then perhaps 10 years later I ran into him in Reading of all places. I recognized him, but I’m not sure if he knew who I was. And 10 years after that, I spied him right here on the streets of Philadelphia. Once again our conversation was brief, as I’m not sure if he recognized me or if he was just being polite.

And that was pretty much it. My sister tells me that the year after I graduated he returned to Elco, and she had him as an algebra teacher. She wasn’t as impressed with his teaching skills as I was, but then she never liked math the way I did.

Donald B. Troutman was born on November 10, 1940 in West Reading. He was the fifth and youngest child of Frederick Elias Troutman and Tillie S. Bickel. He was a 1958 graduate of Wilson High School and a 1963 graduate of Kutztown State College. So his first year of teaching was at Elco.

From what I can gather, he lived a good part of his life in Sinking Spring. And I have been able to figure out that he was my third cousin, although how or if he was related to Suzanne remains a mystery, as I have not yet been able to trace a connection between her and me.

On August 19, 2009, Donald B. Troutman died of natural causes in ManorCare, West Reading when he was 68 years old.

The family tree showing our connection. Notice in the rightmost column that John B Troutman and Susanna Moyer (highlighted) are shown twice. Their offspring, Elias Troutman and George Troutman are brothers. Their respective offspring, John Troutman and John Jacob Troutman, are cousins. They in turn beget Frederick Elias Troutman and Arthur James Troutman, who are second cousins. And finally, their sons are Donald and me, who are third cousins. Click the image to enlarge.

Mr. Curtis Troutman of Womelsdorf, PA

We moved to Richland, PA, in June, 1957, so in September I started attending Richland School in third grade. At that time third grade was divided between two classrooms, the division being accomplished by alphabetical order. As my last name began with a “T”, I was in Miss Margaret Klopp’s room along with (and I’m doing this from memory, so I might have a name or two wrong) Skeet Seldomridge, Richie Spitler, Johnnie Steinbach, Steve Weik, Bobby Weinhold, and Pam Barry.

Curtis Troutman circa 1945

The astute reader will at once notice two anomalies: that’s an extremely small class size and Pam Barry’s name isn’t near the end of the alphabet. Both are easily explained. In addition to teaching that fragment of the third grade, Miss Margaret Klopp also had the entire fourth grade class to teach that year. And Pam Barry was scrunched in with us because her mother, Mrs. Helen Barry, was the teacher of the other segment of third graders.

One day shortly after the school year began, our little band of third graders from Miss Klopp’s room was shepherded into Mrs. Helen Barry’s room where I was shocked to see my uncle Curtis standing in front of the blackboard. (If you need a refresher on my uncle Curtis, I wrote about him briefly in the post on my piano teachers.)

As my fellow third graders were being seated, Mrs. Barry turned to me and asked me to do the honors of introducing this man to the class. As I walked to the front of the room, she whispered in my ear, “Mr. Troutman!” It’s good she did or I almost certainly would have introduced him as Curtis!

I had realized by this time that Curtis was there in his capacity as a music teacher; I just hadn’t realized before this that he was going to be our music teacher. So I introduced him to the class as Mr. Troutman. (By the way, Mrs. Barry taught both third and second grades; I don’t recall if her second grade class was present for the music lesson or if they had been shuffled off to parts unknown.)

It’s odd, given that I’m accused of having such a good memory for those days, but I don’t recall very much about Curtis’s music classes. What I recall most (well, besides the flutophone that he taught some of us to play one year) is the yearly concerts that he organized, and thinking back, it must have involved some major organizational skills on his part. I am retroactively impressed.

The concerts involved several classes from grades four, five, and six, I think, from several different schools being rehearsed separately for months. Each grade got to sing a single part of the harmony, with, as I dimly recall, the youngest class singing the soprano or melody line, and each succeeding grade being given the corresponding lower harmony line, with the sixth graders getting the bass line. As I said this was all rehearsed separately for months, once a week during the regular music lesson, until just before the concert itself when finally all the classes from the surrounding schools would come together for a joint rehearsal. The logistics of rehearsing and organizing and trying to control a bunch of elementary school kids in an endeavor like that gives me the willies, and I don’t know how Curtis managed to pull it off year after year.

I only remember one of those concerts, the one when I was in fifth grade. Each of the songs that the amassed students performed was accompanied on the piano by a fellow student, with Curtis (or perhaps I really should refer to him as Mr. Troutman) doling out the responsibility to a suitably worthy student. That year I was given one number to play; I don’t know what it was, but it was probably something relatively simple such as a hymn with nothing but chords to play, as neither Curtis (my uncle) nor Mr. Troutman (our music teacher) had any illusions about my piano playing abilities.

Curtis Troutman circa 1952

All the other songs except one were assigned to two extremely talented pianists, a girl and a boy, who, being that they were from a different school, were completely unknown to me. And if I learned their names then, I quickly forgot them because I don’t think I knew them until years later when the schools combined as Eastern Lebanon County (Elco), and I got to know Steve Sattazahn and Cindy Keller.

The one other song, “Oklahoma!”, that was assigned to another student was taken by multi-talented sixth-grader Carolyn Sonnen. That was the first time I had ever heard that song, and it’s the only song that I specifically recall us singing. I can still remember the thrill of singing “Okla- Homa! Okla- Homa!” over and over as the soprano voices soared over the top with the melody in the final peroration. We gave a thoroughly rousing rendition, I’m certain.

There was only one problem. Multi-talented though Carolyn Sonnen may have been (in addition to the piano, she also played the flute), Mr. Troutman was not satisfied with her piano rendition of that song. At the last minute he decided that he would have to play the piano part himself, relegating her to page turner. She was humiliated by this turn of events, and I’m certain that seeing Steve and Cindy playing all those other songs just rubbed salt into the wound.

The next school day, she took her disappointment out on me, as it was well known that Mr. Troutman was my uncle, not, of course, that I could do anything about it. For my part, I didn’t think her playing had been disqualifying, but it wasn’t my opinion that mattered, and for the record, I don’t recall being particularly uncomfortable when she expressed her displeasure to me.

Curtis Calvin Troutman was born on April 24, 1929, the fourth and youngest son of John and Edna (Moyer) Troutman. I don’t have any details about his early life, but he received a degree in music from Lebanon Valley College and during the Korean War he was drafted and sent overseas. He must have spent some time in Japan (I don’t know if he was stationed there or just went there for R&R), because when he came home, he had a lot of Japanese items and knew some of the language (as did his sister Irene, but I’m not sure when she spent time there).

He taught me three words of Japanese (which much later I was able to verify with someone who knows Japanese, although Google translate does not seem to translate them in the same way), and although he never wrote them down (I couldn’t read at the time anyway), I’ll do my best to transliterate: “skoh-shee” meaning “small”; “kahks-ahn” meaning large; and “voh-kah-teh” meaning “understand”. The last one became the most important, as for some time after that, whenever he tried to explain something to me, he would conclude with “Voh-kah-teh?” to see if I had understood what he had said.

Curtis Troutman as organist at Christ Lutheran Church, Stouchsburg

Somewhere around the time I was five, he made a tape recording of music from Chaikovsky’s Nutcracker (I don’t know if it was just the suite or if it included more of the music of the ballet) along with his narration of the story and tried to get me to listen to it. But I resisted. A story about a nutcracker just didn’t sound interesting to me. From the vantage of 65 years I think I can add another reason that I didn’t quite understand at the time. He was talking down to me, and I could feel that emotionally and I resented it, even if I couldn’t have put it into words at the time. It seems strange that he could have been so successful as a music teacher (and I think he was a good teacher), and yet couldn’t relate entirely successfully with his nephew.

There was one major downside to having Curtis as our music teacher during third through sixth grades, and that downside had a name: Mrs. Helen Barry. You see, not only was Mrs. Barry the second and third grade teacher, she was also Pam’s mother, and from time to time I’d encounter her in that capacity. And she and I would chat, usually just exchanging pleasantries, really about nothing important, but—

Absolutely anything that I said to Helen Barry would invariably make its way to Curtis who would immediately pass it on to my mother, usually entirely devoid of context. Need I remind you how even the most innocent remark when stripped of its context can take on the most embarrassing of connotations? And my mother always took things in the worst possible way. Actually, now that I think about it, this data transmission didn’t stop after I left sixth grade; Helen Barry was still passing info to Curtis and thus to my mom even during my high school years. You’d think I would have learned by then.

Curtis and his wife Arlene with my parents Arlene and Tuffy circa 2002

Curtis remained living with his parents on the farm until they sold it around 1964, I think. In fact, he was quite active on the farm; I remember during the auctioning of the livestock when the farm was sold, he played a very active role.

He continued to live with his parents when they moved into Womelsdorf until they died in 1965 and 66. Shortly after that he married a woman named Arlene Boltz; so not only was my mother named Arlene, but so was one of my aunts.

They lived in Lebanon, and after that I only had sporadic contact with him, chiefly at funerals or my parents’ 50th wedding anniversary. Curtis was organist and/or music director at a number of churches in the area, including Christ Lutheran Church, Stouchsburg.

His wife Arlene passed away in 2012, and Curtis died on October 27, 2015, at the Lebanon Valley Home in Annville.

The Speech Choir

Mrs. Esther Papson

At Eastern Lebanon County High School (Elco) in the mid 1960’s the first few minutes of the school day were devoted to a program presented over the Public Address system. Mrs. Esther Papson via her Public Speaking course was in charge of the program, and at our initial class during our Junior year, she appointed several students to take charge of the details of the program. We met at Debbie Miller’s house one evening, and while I no longer recall exactly who was at that very first meeting, besides Debbie and myself, it might have included Mary Lou Bliss, Maryann Shelhamer, Saundra Daniels, Gary Wells, and Randy Klopp. Maybe some others. Carol Hill, perhaps?

Anyway, we ended up calling ourselves the Irregulars because the plan was keep rotating the membership. That was the plan, but some of us didn’t stick to it.

Besides the regular Irregulars, we had to make sure that everyone in the entire Class of ’67 got to participate in at least one morning show to satisfy their Public Speaking requirement. We had a lot of fun with that show, and Mrs. Papson gave us pretty much a free rein most of the time.

As I dimly recall, there was a brief opening of some sort of inspirational reading; this was usually done by whomever had been chosen from the class to satisfy their Public Speaking requirement for that day. After that one of the Irregulars would take over with a book or movie review or a humorous essay of some sort. For our Halloween show, I adapted a short horror story by Ray Bradbury into a radio-style play; Gary played the part of the killer. A fair amount of our material came straight from the pages of Playboy magazine, though I’m sure Mrs. Papson would have been horrified if she had known.

That was the fun part of Public Speaking.

But Mrs. Papson also made us enter some speech contests from time to time. I’ve mentioned before that I apparently have a pretty decent public speaking voice. On one occasion there was a speech contest that I really, really, really didn’t want to enter, but Mrs. Papson insisted. It was one of those contests with a super patriotic theme, something like “Why Is America the Greatest Democracy in the Universe?” or some such. It was just not a topic that I felt comfortable with, so I intentionally wrote a bad speech.

The way that particular contest worked, we recorded our speech on tape (I think), and the judges could listen at their leisure. Even though I thought my speech was terrible, I made it into the finalists. Mrs. Papson was no dummy; she could see through what I had done. She made the comment, which found its way back to me that “Troutman seduced the judges with his voice.” Fortunately, sanity prevailed, and someone else won.

From the Lebanon Daily News April 12, 1966

But then there came the time when the Woman’s Club in Myerstown arranged with Mrs. Papson to put on a short program at one of their meetings. I don’t know how she selected us, but I’m pretty sure it was not voluntary; in any case she arranged for sixteen of us to form a speech choir to present a dramatic performance of a poem by Vachel Lindsay.

The sixteen consisted of myself, Larry Miller, Kenneth Biever, Delroy “Skeet” Seldomridge, Allen Maurer, Steve Sattazahn, Mary Lou Bliss, Pamela Barry, Saundra Daniels, Maryann Shelhamer, Deborah Miller, Sue Kohl, Doreen Kohler, Beverly Keller, Betty Kupp, and Lorraine Helder.

Mrs. Papson rehearsed us and had us chant some parts of the poem in a sing-song rhythm, at other parts we tried to imitate the beating of drums or make a dreamy effect by stretching out the syllables “hoo-doo” to “hoo-oo-doo-oo”, all to emphasize the varied moods of the poem, which had specifically been written to be declaimed.

I’m not sure that the good women of the Woman’s Club were expecting the performance that they received. Maybe it’s my imagination, but I’d swear I saw some wide-eyed looks of shock bordering on horror when we launched into “The Congo: A Study Of the Negro Race” by Vachel Lindsay

“I. THEIR BASIC SAVAGERY
Fat black bucks in a wine-barrel room,
Barrel-house kings, with feet unstable,
Sagged and reeled and pounded on the table,
Pounded on the table,
Beat an empty barrel with the handle of a broom,
Hard as they were able,
Boom, boom, BOOM”

Go read the whole thing, if you have the stomach for it.

“Mumbo-Jumbo will hoo-oo-doo-oo you. Mumbo ... Jumbo ... will ... hoo-oo-doo-oo ... you.”

Miss Esther Mae Zug of Lebanon, PA

When her brother John L. Zug died, it was page one news in the Lebanon Daily News, May 14, 1965

The sixth and youngest child of Ephraim Zug (1867 - 1934) and the former Barbara Longenecker (1877 - 1949), Miss Esther Mae Zug was born on December 20, 1915, in Lebanon, Pennsylvania, nearly a year and a half before the United States entered the Great War.

Census records show she was raised in North Lebanon, and sometime in the 1940s she went to work as a teacher at Fredericksburg High School for several years before transferring to Myerstown High School, where a February 2, 1950 article in the Lebanon Daily News reports “Miss Esther Zug then led the first teen talk discussion entitled, ‘Do I Count?’” at a Tri-Hi-Y meeting.

In June, 1950, her former colleagues at Fredericksburg held a shower for her, as she was about to marry a man originally from the Island of Cyprus who was several years her senior. It was to be her first marriage, his second.

She quit her teaching job to devote herself full time to her marriage, and in September, 1951, her first son was born. The following year she gave birth to twin sons.

Then in July of 1958 tragedy struck. Her husband, Christopher Papson, co-owner of the Fireside Restaurant, was stricken by a heart attack and died in the Lebanon Sanatorium. His death made the front page of the Lebanon Daily News.

A brief word about Christopher, or Chris as he was apparently known. From what I can discover, his parents were Michael and Sunday Papson, British citizens living on the Island of Cyprus. Chris came to this country in 1926 at the age of 22, and by 1933 he was working at the Hershey Estates, and for several years he was part of Milton S. Hershey’s personal staff.

Chris’s first marriage was to Margaret C. Heim on September 14, 1940, and from the marriage application we learn that his father was the Postmaster on the Island of Cyprus. I can’t find any record of what happened to that first marriage, but there don’t seem to have been any offspring. In 1942 Chris joined the U.S. Air Force. In 1946 he and his brother George established the Fireside Restaurant along 422 east of Lebanon.

Her husband’s death was reported on page one of the Lebanon Daily News on July 12, 1958

In September of the following year Mrs. Esther (Zug) Papson rejoined the faculty at Myerstown. Incidentally, that was Mr. Ronald Graybill’s first year at Myerstown. And of course, a few years after that, the Eastern Lebanon County (Elco) High School was built.

In May of 1965 tragedy struck once again, as Esther’s brother John L. Zug, owner of the the self-named feed mill in Richland, succumbed after a long illness to chronic pancreatitis. On a personal note, I had been a frequent visitor to Zug’s Feed Mill when I was young, as that’s where my grandfather did a lot of his business, bringing in the grain he had harvested and buying the seeds for the following year. Also, my father had gone to work for John Zug for a couple years after we moved from the farm.

Of course, Mrs. Papson needs no introduction to Elco’s Class of ’67. She was our Public Speaking teacher during our Junior year and our English teacher during our Senior year. I have many memories of Mrs. Papson, but there’s one in particular that try as I might, I cannot erase from my memory banks. It was in April, 1966, when she took 16 hand-picked members from her Public Speaking classes to form a speech choir to give a performance at a Woman’s Club in Myerstown…

On June 8, 1950 the Lebanon Daily News had an article about her wedding