On, November 14, 2009 John Collins was awarded the honorable achievement, the “Howard Zahniser” Award by the organization “Protect the Adirondacks” He received this award for his efforts, courage, education and passion to protect the Adirondack Park & Catskill Park. I was asked to write something about his time teaching at Long Lake Central School and I thank all of you who generously shared some very funny memories and the following is a compilation of insights many friends shared, so I thank you. FYI Howard Zahniser was the author of the federal Wilderness Act of 1964. While there are obviously many different sides to the preservation of the Adirondack Park and the efforts to protect it, I was honored to be asked to write something for the program because Mr. C was a very important influence on my own personal history (and on many of my fellow facebook friends)
The following appeared in the program…
He made an indelible impression on the students passing through his classroom. He expected participation, and was often met with resistance, but he never gave up. He went out of his way to encourage those who didn’t embrace traditional modes of learning for hard labor, hammering nails, reading, physical exertion, or memorizing poetry.
He wore the part well, with a macramé belt, short sleeve print shirt and a cotton tie with a flat end, and he was often heard muttering, “don’t touch my tie.” He made us memorize “El Dorado,” “The Road Not Taken,” and all of the state capitals. His temper was infamous and his red-faced, boiling demeanor often exploded trying to control the mischievous antics of rambunctious ten-year olds. Fearful forth graders deliberately sabotaged their grades in an attempt to avoid the inevitable jump to fifth after hearing the bellows of indignation booming down the second floor corridor.
Mr. Collins exposed students to culture through senior trips to Paris and London. He advised the Student Council and National Honor Society. He introduced students to Albany through the Student Senate Policy forum. He stashed cookies in his desk drawer, and pretended not to notice when cookie crumbs trickled down the face of guilty students. His demonstrated finesse by teaching politeness, differentiating between the words “can and may” “Can I go to the bathroom?” “I don’t know, can you?”
He initiated our first relationship with the great outdoors by exposing students to their own backyard, the Adirondacks. There were the mandatory hikes with sixth grade teacher and partner-in-crime, Gary Baker. Yearly trips up Chimney Mountain to explore caves, steep terrain up to Blue Mountain, pushing students up Mt. Marcy, cross-country skiing and snowshoeing into Sargeant’s Ponds and the ultimate rite of passage: the fifth grade overnight. Destinations varied year to year… Kelly’s Point or Marcy Dam.
Mr. Collins, or Mr. C as he was affectionately known, encouraged kids who had never been into the wild to appreciate the natural experience. Rain or shine there were hikes. He tolerated whining, scraped knees, mud, inappropriate shoes, and general disinterest, able to turn apathy into curiosity. His infamous side trips often questioned by inquisitive young minds asking, “are we lost?” His confident response as branches hit his torso and neck, “we’re bushwhacking!” Relief etched on his face as soon as the lean-to appeared. He and wife Ellen always packed their tent to maintain peace and privacy. From his tent he would occasionally beckon “go to bed!” while students giggled and flicked flashlights on and off, amazed how quiet the woods actually were.
His laugh, his floppy hair, his passion and competitive game of kickball carried us through and made our brains work, for that we forgive his impatience and thank him for instilling us with fever for knowledge and an appreciation for what we may have ignored had he not been there to open the door.
A collective history was compiled by the alumni of Long Lake Central School through Facebook. Memories from: Roberta Sutton McKinney, Jan Hunt, Maureen Rayome Turcotte, Scott Wight, Lynn Wight Stonier, Seth Baker, Melanie Boudreau Marcone, Michael Marcone and Alexandra Verner Roalsvig.