With a playful smirk, Tom Garber says he never did tell his students how old he really was.
There are countless stories this man could tell you, and majority of them would involve a classroom setting. Despite his passion for history, opportunities he passed down to be a military officer and a school principal – Tom Garber kept true to his love for teaching.
“It's like a calling,” he said of teaching. “I knew since I was 12 I wanted to be a teacher.”
Tom was one of seven children that all graduated from Riverton (Kan.) High School. He was only 16 when he graduated in 1948. He earned his bachelor of arts in education from Bethany Nazarene College, and while he was at Kansas State Teachers College (now Pittsburg State University) earning his master's in education and administration, the Korean War began.
“Lots of fellas got drafted,” he said, “and my draft board told me in 1953 I was going to be drafted whether I was finished or not. Well, I had to go to combat training at Fort Leonard Wood. I had an eight-year commitment, two active years and six in reserve. The Army recognized my bachelor's and told me I could be an officer. But I didn't want to do that because I would have had to be in longer.”
During Garber's time in the service (August 1953-May 1955), he did experience some amazing travel opportunities. (He was stationed in Austria to work in the Camp McCauley Post Office.) Wearing his military uniform with pride, he was in a large crowd that was blessed by the Pope in Rome, and he saw Winston Churchill in London – twice.
In 1955, Garber returned home and started teaching history in Central High School in Pueblo, Colo.
“I looked as old as the kids,” he said, smiling big. “A secretary greeted me like I was one of the kids, and when I told her who I was – oh, she was so embarrassed. (stopped to laugh a little) I told her it was alright.”
He taught sixth, fifth and then fourth grade for several years in Colorado. He married an Oklahoma girl named Janelle in 1960, and they're still together – about to move to Baldwin City, Kan., to be close to their children. To their union, Kevin, Karen, Kimberly and Kirk were born. A little later in life, they practically added another child to their family when Kazumi Saigi experienced her senior year in high school with the Garbers as a foreign exchange student.
“She was a wonderful Christian girl from Kyoto, Japan,” Tom said. “She's married now, but we still keep in touch.”
It was in June 1978, when a brother-in-law, Don, encouraged the Garbers to come to Carthage, Mo. Joining Don in his real estate endeavors with the United Farm Agency, Tom became licensed, and Janelle taught at Mark Twain Elementary School. When business was lacking, Tom started substitute teaching for the Carthage R-9 School District.
Page 2 of 2 - Many happy years passed for the Garbers in Carthage. They attend the First Church of the Nazarene and have lived in the same home for 35 years. Janelle concluded her teaching career at 17 years with Mark Twain.
On May 19, 2011, at a Carthage High School talent show, the principal, Kandy Frazier, asked Tom to the stage. She presented him with an Appreciation Award as a way of recognizing his record-breaking 33 years of contributions to the district.
As noted in The Carthage Press, Frazier said “the retiring teacher was well-respected, always professional, generous with his time and supportive of the students and staff.”
On that morning, Tom turned toward the crowd to see they were giving him a standing ovation.
“That about got to me,” he said, still smiling at the memory, now two years later. “I was speechless … I love substituting but I had to quit.
“We're going to hate leaving Carthage,” Tom said. “We love the people, we love the church, the schools … We have loved everything about it. And I have bragged on Carthage to many, many people. I have learned it's been wonderful to be in a small town community.”
Thomas R. Garber
Thoroughly enjoyed playing music and singing. He played the trumpet for churches, high school band, and sang in the high school Glee Club, many church performances and in college.
Member of the Colorado School and Public Employees Retirement Association, a state affiliate of the National Retirement Teachers Association.
Lifetime member of the National Education Association since 1955.
Former member of the American Federation of Teachers, and the Pueblo Education Association of School District of Pueblo, Colo.