Thank you, Ken Collins

Last night I attended the memorial service for one of the most influential people in my life - one of the individuals who supported the seemingly unrealistic dream of a high school kid who wanted to have a career in some art-related field, and who encouraged me tremendously when I learned about this thing called graphic design. As ceremonies marking the end of someone's life go, this was truly a celebration of an incredible person. The music - a mixture of religious standards and show tunes - was uplifting, the selected speakers were articulate and witty, the large church was nearly full, and there really wasn't a lot of sadness. Admittedly, I teared up a bit as the beautiful rendition of "Somewhere Over The Rainbow" was played. The ceremony ended with a slide show of beautiful photos the person being honored had taken of his amazing garden during various seasons.

Last Friday morning I got an email from my sister informing me of the death of one of my favorite McNary High School teachers - Ken Collins - and it really hit me hard. I immediately let my feelings be known in a post of the HOW Design Forum - one of my online familes.

You may have unknowingly read the name Ken Collins in the acknowledg- ments of my book The Savvy Designer's Guide to Success. He was one of my high school art teachers (OK, my favorite high school art teacher) and one of the people who was able to "see much more in my abilities than I was able to find within myself at the time." Ken was one of the educators I had to answer to as the first student to be put on independent study in art with our town's public school system (because I was such a pain in the ass after another art instructor told me I wasn't doing my painting "right").

It was an honor, in 2003, to be invited by Ken to speak to art students at my high school as part of an "Art Careers" program, which actually recognized that the arts were a viable future career path for those in high school. Yes, nearly 30 years after I had graduated from high school, Ken (he was one of those teachers who wanted some students to call him by his first name) was still educating and inspiring students who had a dream of pursuing art and the performing arts as a profession. Although he was only seven years older than me, he had aged much more than his years since I had seen him last, in part due to an injury that left him in chronic pain. Even so, that spark of enthusiasm about teaching was still brilliant in his eyes and that smile conveyed the joy he got from his work, his art, his family and his life.

There are those people in your life who REALLY make a difference in helping you become who you are. Ken was one of the biggies for me. I'm so glad I got to thank him in my book - and in person - for his contribution in helping me realize so many of my dreams. I'm so pleased I was able to return to my home town of Salem and attend his memorial gathering. It was kind of a flashback of memories and familiar faces. At one point during the service the pastor asked that those associated with Ken through the McNary High School family stand - and probably a good third of the hundreds of people in attendance stood.

In my original post on the HOW Design Forum, I asked that "in his honor I would hope you could all take a good look at who you are today. Who helped create the designer/artist that you are? If possible, track down those important people in your life and say 'thank you.' I'm lucky, I got to do it in a very public manner and see their reactions when I handed them my book. Expressing your appreciation will mean a great deal to these incredible people." Do take the time to personally thank those in your life who have made a difference.

Yesterday, in a bout of email ping pong, I mentioned to the editor of a design website that I would be attending the memorial service in the evening. This individual doesn't know me personally, but she took the time to send me an email with the following quotation:

"We are like children, who stand in need of masters to enlighten us and direct us; and God has provided for this, by appointing his angels to be our teachers and guides." - Saint Thomas Aquinas

I printed out the email, folded it and kept it in my shirt pocket the rest of the day and evening. It was such a lovely gift from someone I don't even know - and a great tribute to my teacher, Ken Collins.


Juggling Jason said...

I extend my sympathies to you.

kristen said...

Aww Jeff he sounds so special. I'm glad you were able to celebrate his life!