Sometimes, there is a person in our childhood who has a great influence on our lives. We don't often think about these people, but every now and than, some event occurs that brings this person to light.
My person of influence is Sister Mark Plescher, a nun from the congregation of the Sisters of St. Agnes. Until recently, when I corresponded by e-mail, I didn't even know Sister Mark's last name. I only knew her as Sister Mark.
Sister Mark taught at St. Mary Grade School in Ellis, and she was my teacher in both the second and fifth grades. Sister Mark was one of those awe-inspiring teachers who just took me under her wing and seemed to bring out and nurture all my good qualities.
I wasn't the smartest kid in the class. Even to this day, I can pick the top three "smart girls." They seemed to get all the attention from the teachers. Maybe Sister Mark gave them attention, too. I don't remember. I just recall her telling me that I was doing well, which made me glow and want to do even better.
Sister Mark liked vocabulary words. I distinctly remember her writing the new word on the blackboard and telling us the meaning, using it in sentences and then making it part of our spelling words for the week. I liked learning new words, because it seemed that Sister Mark liked words, and anything she enjoyed was what I wanted to treasure too, and so I took an interest in words.
In the fifth grade, Sister Mark decided to give an "outstanding student award." The students didn't know she was going to give the award. One Monday, we arrived at school and the award was simply posted. It was given to a student who strived to do well academically, was nice to others, etc. The award had a list of accomplishments, and whoever achieved the most on that list was going to be Sister Mark's outstanding student. Well, I wasn't Sister Mark's first outstanding student, but I was determined to be her second. And lo and behold, I made it.
The next Monday when we came to school, there it was posted on the board. Donetta Neuburger, the outstanding student. Wow! There was not another achievement that I remember in grade school that boosted my confidence academically more than that simple piece of paper that bore my name as the outstanding fifth-grade student.
There was only one area that I did not get "outstanding" on, and that was the area of penmanship. The nuns just didn't know in 1968 that computers equipped with word processors were just around the corner, which would make penmanship less important in the future.
Sister Mark was also our school librarian, and she chose several students to work with her to learn the library system. I was one of Sister Mark's chosen students who helped in the library. It didn't even bother me to stay after school to help her put books away. I would do anything for Sister Mark.
All that Sister Mark did for me came to mind recently as the St. of Saint Agnes began celebrating their 150-year anniversary -- an organization founded in the United States to help educate Catholic children. Today there are 10 Sisters of St. Agnes that continue to work in various ministries in and around Hays, education still being one of these ministries.
Today, Sister Mark is an assistant superintendent of schools and director of elementary education in the Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown, Hollidaysburg, Pa. Until she sees this column, I bet she had no idea that 40 years ago, her positive influence and her vocabulary lessons would inspire a future writer. Thank you, Sister Mark!
Donetta Robben is a freelance columnist from Hays. Write to her at P.O. Box 614, Hays, KS 67601, or e-mail her at donetta@ soulcommunications.net