My Friend, Mike Bartnikowski (Long-time teacher at Ford School)

Aside

My visit with Mike in 2011

Today (February 5th) would have been Mike Bartnikowski’s birthday. Unfortunately, he is no longer with us to celebrate. While I was living in Highland Park, Mike was a great influence in my life during my teenage years.

The first time, I ever saw Mike was while I was a student at Ford Middle School from 1966-69.  Mike was a seventh grade teacher, and I would see him walking down the halls with his class. You couldn’t miss Mike because of his size. Many of his students would affectionately call him “Big Bart”. I never had Mike as a teacher; so I really didn’t know him or even speak to him.

My opportunity to meet Mike was when he started to work at Ford Park in the summers.  I spent a lot of time at Ford Park even as a young teen because there wasn’t much else to do. I would play shuffleboard with the old men, play some table games, and play a lot of tennis. It was during these summers that I developed a friendship with Mike.

Mike treated me as an adult though I was only a young teen. He would listen to what was going on in my life and he would share things that were happening in his life. I remember that he was quite excited when his daughter, Barb, was born. Unfortunately, I didn’t really appreciate Mike’s friendship and kindness until later in my life.

One of the things that Mike greatly enjoyed was playing war games (mostly board games).  Mike and I would spend time each summer playing some of these war games at the park.  Eventually Mike started a war gamers club that met at Hackett Field House every Saturday morning. He loved the competition. One of his most favorite games was Diplomacy. He loved the deceit and backstabbing that was part of the game. Because of Mike’s very competitive nature, Saturday morning was the highlight of the week.

Mike also enjoyed playing practical jokes. One evening at Ford Park, I was playing tennis when I heard this voice over the loudspeaker say: “Mark Booth, your mother is calling you!” Many of those playing were laughing as I ran off the courts to see what was up. Mike then comes up to me laughing because he had pulled off a brilliant prank.

After I graduated from Highland Park High School in 1973, I never did see Mike again until 2011.  Like many people, we were able to get reconnected through Facebook. I enjoyed spending a couple of hours with Mike and his wife, Barb. He talked about Ford School, the teachers in the school, some of his students, and he also wanted to relive his prank that he played upon me forty years before. I am glad that we had that chance to get acquainted again.

During my last visit, Mike was surprised that I was a pastor of a Baptist Church. I shared how God had used him to greatly influence my life. I reminded him how through his advice, I was able to convince my parents to transfer me back to Highland Park High School after a very miserable ninth grade at U of D High School. This decision enabled me to eventually finish college early. If I hadn’t, I would not have met my wife, Sharon. I would not have gone to South Africa and Portugal. My two sons would not be in Portugal now. I could just go on and on.

During my high school years I didn’t know how God was working in my life. I thank God for having an adult friend like Mike with whom I could talk. I am sure Mike didn’t know until my visit two years ago how important his role was in my life. Yes, Mike is missed by many, but I will not forget Him. God is still blessing me by having placed Mike in my life.

P.S. Here is an article about the Wargamers Club that Mike started:

 If you are interested I have another blog in which I write about about spiritual matters such as “God’s Prescription for Pain” and “Verses for the Valley”. Here is the link: http://www.markjemilbooth.com
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Facing My Greatest Childhood Fear: Swim Class

The Liberty School Pool as seen recently.  The school and pool are closed.  A special thanks to Kennedy Baughman for the photo.

The Liberty School Pool as seen recently. The school and pool are closed. A special thanks to Kennedy Baughman for the photo.

My elementary school years went fairly smoothly until fourth grade.  This is when we were introduced to swim class.  My greatest fear would be met head on, and I would lose the battle for several years.

Midland school didn’t have a swimming school.  Every Tuesday afternoon, we would take a school bus to Liberty school for swim class. The bus ride was the highlight of this most difficult time in my life. The bus driver always seemed quite cheerful and talkative; however, his cheerfulness couldn’t help ease the pain of my worst hour of the week.

Hank is the first one on the left. He is remembered by most of the students during my era.

Here are some of the bus drivers.  Seth is the one I remembered the most.

After arriving at Liberty school, we were introduced to our routine for the year. Mr. Munro, our teacher, told us that we were to totally undress. This was difficult for me because I had never done this before in public. What even made it more difficult is that we were not to wear swim trunks. We would be spending the whole time in swim class in our birthday suits. To this day, nobody has given a satisfactory explanation to this rule. The girls wore swimsuits during their swim time. Why didn’t my parents complain? Why didn’t any parent complain?! Why didn’t some newspaper expose the practice? I can’t imagine this happening today.

After we took off our clothes, Mr. Munro told us that we had to shower before we entered the pool area. After the shower, he would inspect each one of us by rubbing our collarbone area and our wrist. If no dry skin came off, we were good to go. Eventually, we learned that we only needed to clean our collarbone area and our wrist.

Now, the worst part would soon come.  We were to get into the pool.  The pool at Liberty, looking back, was not very large, but it looked like an ocean to me.  The largest pool I had ever entered was my bathtub.  I would have been quite content if it had remained that way.

When I entered the pool, I lived in the shallow end. I may have ventured out a bit with a board to keep me afloat, but I still didn’t go any further than where my head could stay above water. Mr. Munro probably taught many a boy to swim, but I wasn’t one of them.

There were many Tuesdays when I would come to school feeling quite well, but by afternoon, I would develop a stomach ache. I wasn’t making this up, I was so afraid of swim class that I would literally get sick. I would be sent to the nurse’s office and she would give me some kind peppermint to settle my stomach. The bus would leave and I was spared one week of agony in swim class.

When I arrived at Ford Middle School, I think Mr DeSantis, our swim teacher, took me on as a personal challenge. It seemed like I was the only student in sixth grade who couldn’t swim. Mr. DeSantis tried and tried to get me to leave the float board and start swimming.  Soon, he threatened me with an “F” if I didn’t start to swim. Finally, the day came when I actually swam the width of the Ford School pool. I had learned to swim! I avoided my “F”!

However, Mr. DeSantis was not done with me. In eighth grade, I had a new challenge.  Mr. DeSantis said that I must JUMP into the deep end feet first and hit the bottom of the pool and bounce up and swim the LENGTH of the pool. If I didn’t accomplish this feat, I would receive an “F”.  I don’t know how many weeks passed, but every time I would get to the edge of the pool, I would think that I would never survive the JUMP.

You also had to know that Mr. DeSantis was a bit overweight. Could he save me if I were to drown?  I had even asked him once: “Why gym teachers tended to be heavy?”  I do not know what possessed me to do this, but he chuckled and said: “When we were younger we ate a lot and we exercised a lot.  When got older we kept eating, but we didn’t exercise as much.”  I have not forgotten this lesson in my life.

Finally, judgment day came. If I didn’t jump, I would get a big “F” on my report card.  With great fear, I looked over the side of the pool. I looked at Mr. DeSantis, who said: “Don’t worry, you can do it.” I don’t know how I did it, but I jumped in and my feet hit the bottom of the pool and I bounced back up and swam the length of the pool. That was the last time I have ever jumped into a pool.

Even today, I am not much for the water, but I can swim a few laps in the pool, and maybe swim enough to save myself.  I am thankful for Mr. DeSantis and his great patience with me.  He helped me to finally meet my great fear and win the battle.

P.S. Please visit my other blog where I talk about spiritual topics such as: “Candid Thoughts about Crowds”, and “Five Great Promises as I Travel this Life”. The address is: http://www.markjemilbooth.com.