On Unorthodox Recruiting

Published 7:15 am Saturday, September 9, 2017

Commentary by Dr. Don Newbury

This high school choir teacher maintains a high excitement level throughout the year, but it peaks with the beginning of school each fall. That’s when she’s on high alert to sign up new members.

And she does it with the zeal of a gal awarded a 10-yard head start in a Sadie Hawkins Day race.

Sandra Sanders Mattson, Killeen High School men’s choir director, is ever “at the ready” to add another voice, and if it happens to be bass, that’s all the better. She has found, at times, that the best way to a student’s vocal chords is through the stomach, and if it involves an infrequent “made-from-scratch” kitchen assignment, so be it.

Consider this “chance” meeting recently when Timothy, a 17-year-old junior, stopped at a KHS hall intersection, where Sandra was meeting and greeting, as well as nibbling. Drooling at the prospect of a chip laden with spinach dip, Timothy asked for one.

Noticing Tim’s humongous neck, she was happy to accommodate. Already she could see him rattling the rafters with his “booming bass.”

“I love spinach dip, unless it’s store-bought,” he said, halting before the chip crossed his lips. That’s when Sandra admitted that her dip was, in fact, from the supermarket. “Next time, why don’t you bring homemade spinach dip?” he asked.

You have a deal,” she said. “Come to choir Tuesday, and we’ll have spinach dip galore.”

A 26-year teaching veteran, she was certain that her mother would have dozens of spinach dip recipes, and she was right.

Sandra brought the snack; Timothy brought the appetite. She’s hoping, of course, that he’ll join up, perhaps even taking the choir to new contest heights. Maybe she’ll nickname him “Popeye,” the cartoon guy who’d “fight to the finish ‘cause he ate his spinach.”

With a personality several notches above gregarious, she gleefully (no pun intended) shared her story in the teachers’ lounge and on Facebook.

Both revelations resulted in “cat calls.” (Friends know the kitchen is not her favorite place. They say last year when she had a 24-hour virus, she got a get-well card from McDonald’s.)

One colleague said, “He should have chosen the supermarket dip.” Her brother Mike was even more caustic. “Just tell him to steer clear of her sushi.”

Ms. Mattson’s willingness to provide homemade dip reminds educators at all levels that off-the-wall requests can happen at any time.

During one of my presidential years at Howard Payne University, a freshman asked if I would care for her goldfish during the Thanksgiving Holidays. Quickly agreeing to do so, I told her the request was an answer to a prayer.

I explained. “Several times students have asked me to care for their goldfish during holidays, and without exception, I’ve either overfed or underfed, and not one of them survived. Thank you for giving me another chance.” Stumbling as she backed away, she said, “Maybe I’ll just take it home with me.”

It may be a while, however, before anyone in any line of work faces as many unlikely requests as my late friend, Cecil Holman. A saintly Brownwood businessman for a half-century or so, he was owner of Holman’s Funeral Service, “featuring coast-to-coast ambulance service.”

His “coast-to-coast” feature probably never materialized. He said his ambulance had “may pop” tires that “may pop on any run.”

What about the unlikely requests he sometimes faced? “Lots of folks call for an ambulance because they can’t afford cab fare.” Like Ms. Mattson, he preferred life “sunny side up.” She embodies the quote attributed to my speaker friend, Riney Jordan. “Students don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” That was “Uncle Cecil’s” credo, too. Though he faced life without portfolio academically, Holman was as wise as any person I’ve ever known. He taught me much, and the thousands of folks who knew him, revered him.


Dr. Newbury is a speaker in the Dallas/Fort Worth speaker. Inquiries/comments to: newbury@speakerdoc.com. Phone: 817-447-3872. Web site: www.speakerdoc.com. Twitter: @donnewbury. Facebook: don newbury