Purchase photos

Longtime educator teaches, learns life lessons

5/10/2012

By DIANE GASPER-O'BRIEN

By DIANE GASPER-O'BRIEN

dobrien@dailynews.net

He knew immediately what to do with the rocking chair his co-workers gave him. The learning curve will be a little steeper with the iPad he received from his family.

But that's what retirement is for -- to do things at your own pace, on your own time. Besides, Bob Chaffin became adept at improvising a long time ago.

Chaffin, a math teacher at the Hays campus of North Central Kansas Technical College the past 21 years, was honored with a retirement party at the school Wednesday.

People marveled how Chaffin had come to and from school faithfully since 1991, despite dealing with vision problems for nearly 40 years.

Chaffin, diagnosed with macular degeneration at age 27, gave up his driving license when he took the NCKTC job. Sometimes he would ride a bike to school or take the Access van. Other times he would walk the 1.25-mile distance from his home on Centennial Boulevard. Most of the time, his wife gave him a ride.

A lift to and from work was about the only thing Chaffin had to rely on help from others for, however.

He used a closed-circuit TV to enlarge images on a screen in his classroom and had a telescope mounted on the top of one of the lenses in a special pair of eyeglasses. And a handheld electronic magnifier became one of Chaffin's best friends through the years.

Chaffin continued teaching despite those challenges.

"It's amazing what people can do if they make adaptations about the way they do things," Chaffin said.

Don Benjamin, dean of the college's Hays campus, said Chaffin's perseverance spilled over into his classroom.

"He had a very unique ability to transfer his math knowledge to students to help them succeed," Benjamin said.

The student population at NCKTC consists of several nontraditional students from all walks of life who often have different and unique circumstances.

Chaffin said one day back in the 1990s when he was wondering if it all was worth it, a fellow teacher said something Chaffin took to heart.

"He said that this might be the last chance for some of these students to turn their lives around, to get an education and do something with their lives," Chaffin said. "That gave me a little different outlook on some of those students.

"I never forgot that," he added. "I guess now I feel like I was helping a few people along the way, hopefully help them better their life a little bit."

Now, Chaffin gets to enjoy the satisfaction of a job well done and sit back and relax -- maybe in that new rocking chair.

Not surprisingly, he plans to keep busy.

"I have a pretty long honey-do list," he said. "And learning how to use the iPad will take several hours of retirement time."