To the Best Teacher I Ever Had


July 6, 2021

Dear Mrs. Yoes,

I don’t expect you to remember me, but I do remember you, and I have wanted to write to you for years. I’m just sorry that I took so long to do it.

I was your student at Northside Elementary during the 74-75 school year in the 6th grade. I didn’t stand out. I didn’t put any effort into my assignments. I didn’t even bother to brush my long stringy hair when getting ready for school. My name was LeAnn Rowland.

I neither liked nor disliked you as a teacher. I just attended school because it was what kids did.  I moved on to junior high and high school, and I never thought much about you again. In fact, I dropped out of high school in my junior year. I got married that summer, and a year later, when I was supposed to graduate, I had a baby. Thankfully, I somehow had enough forethought to get my GED less than a year after my anticipated graduation year of 1981—in February 1982.

The adults in my childhood were disinterested in me, so I didn’t have anyone to guide me. In fact, I never chose to get married. My mother coerced me into child marriage at the age of 16 and put me on a path of pain and trauma. I didn’t think I had anything to offer the world. I started college several times, and I dropped out several times.

But I’m not writing to you to share my traumatic life experiences. I am writing to you to tell you that although I was indifferent toward you as your student, you were the best teacher I ever had. It took years for the lessons I learned in your class to come to fruition—and I find that to be astonishing.

You taught me responsibility and accountability. You always taught meaningful lessons that applied to the real world. You taught me how to think. You taught me how to spell the word necessary.  You taught me more than I ever learned in any other grade or school.

Once, when you caught me chewing gum, you made me write a report on chicle. Now I’m a public-school teacher too. I didn’t become one until I was in my 50s for the reasons mentioned earlier in my letter. I started out teaching high school English. One of my first students turned in a plagiarized essay. So, taking what I learned from you, I had her write a report on plagiarism.

I hope you are well and have had a good life.  More than anything else, I wanted to reach out to you to thank you for everything you gave me.  No teacher ever gave me as much as you. I’m sorry I took so long to tell you.

With much gratitude,

LeAnn Rowland-Skeen

Joshua 1:8


I haven’t had a lot of kind words for Christians lately. As a Christian, I know that Christians are quick to judge someone who makes such derogatory statements as deceived and in need of salvation. I don’t want to be associated with a group of self-righteous, intolerant religious people who seem to believe that God’s eye twinkles when he looks at them, but not when he looks at me.

If I were ever a lost soul seeking salvation, I would be more disillusioned than ever after being “welcomed” into a fold of the faithful followers of Jesus I have known in my life. We are told that salvation is free. We don’t need to change; we just need to accept redemption. Once we have prayed the sinner’s prayer and are baptized, we are gradually told about the things we are no longer allowed to do and how we are supposed to behave now. If we don’t change, we will lose our salvation. We will lose the salvation that we received and which we were told we were told was ours for free.

We live in a pretentious society. People smile and lie as naturally as they breathe. It’s practically considered normal. But when Christians pretend to be people we can trust with our lives, with our children, with our darkest secrets and fears, turn out to have deceived us, it can shatter our faith in God. It can make us wonder if we were wrong to believe in God in the first place. Yet, Christians don’t seem to care if someone has been hurt or deceived by their pretense. I have seen them continue to preach and pray, never giving a thought to anyone who has been damaged by their lies.

I’m grateful my experience with Christians isn’t the same as my experience with God. God has shown me he is real lots of times and in a variety of ways. But the behavior of Christians has nothing to do with whether or not God is real. I’m not an easy believer. I don’t want to be deceived. If there is no God, I don’t want to spend my life believing there is one. So I wonder, I question, and I pray. I think about the ridiculous and shameless hypocrisy of Christians, and it makes me doubt. I think maybe I still believe in God, but not in Christians.

One morning, over thirty years ago, when I was an evangelical Christian, I spent some time praying and reading my Bible. I prayed for the Lord to lead me to the scripture he wanted me to read. That’s how I always read and prayed. I asked the Lord to show me what he wanted me to read, and he always did. That morning he had me read Joshua 1:8.

Joshua 1:8King James Version (KJV)

8 This book of the law shall not depart out of thy mouth, but thou shalt meditate therein day and night, that thou mayest observe to do according to all that is written therein: for then thou shalt make thy way prosperous, and then thou shalt have good success.

I knew that was what the Lord wanted me to read that morning, even if I didn’t know why. So I read and prayed some more and went about my day. After I finished reading and praying, I turned on the Christian radio station to listen while doing my chores. The station played music, but they also had a lot of Bible lessons and messages. When I turned on the radio that morning, they were about to broadcast a sermon. The speaker said, “Today’s lesson is going to be about Joshua 1:8.” My ears perked up then. I grabbed my Bible and sat down to listen to the lesson. I don’t remember the lesson anymore, but I sure do remember being blown away when he said he would talk about Joshua 1:8. I knew God wanted me to trust that whatever his plans were for me, they included me trusting him, and in that verse.

I wrote the verse on a piece of construction paper, and I taped it to the bathroom mirror. Everyone always says to tape reminders to the bathroom mirror so you will see it every day. To be honest, it just got in my way, but that’s beside the point. Haha.

On Sunday morning, when I walked into the church, I noticed the pastor was wearing army BDUs. I was late, and he was already preaching. He was an enthusiastic evangelist type with a lot of energy. He never stood still. He charged from one side of the room to the other with his fists raised high and with unbridled passion. I took my seat in the second row. I was close to the action, and I could swear he was moving so fast he created a draft when he walked by.

On the shoulder of his uniform, I noticed a patch. It said, “Joshua 1:8.” There it was again, for the third time! It had only been about a week since I first read the verse in my Bible while I was at home reading and praying. From the moment I opened my Bible that morning, I knew that verse was what God wanted me to read. Still, if I had any doubts, I wouldn’t have after seeing the verse on the pastor’s uniform.

Joshua 1:8 is only one of many ways God has confirmed his existence to me. Years have gone by, and I never did learn why the Lord wanted to impress that verse upon me, but I know he wanted me to know it. I’ve faced a lot of difficulty since then. My son Michael died when he was twenty. My husband Billy suffered more than I had ever seen anyone suffer and died of alcoholism when he was only 53. My youngest son, Justin, has lost a lot of loved ones who died unexpected deaths. Justin is an atheist. He has witnessed a lot of the pretentious behavior of Christians too. It did influence his belief system.

I am critical of people who are quick to condemn others but are unashamed and unapologetic at their own pretense and how it affects the lives of other human beings. I don’t have tolerance for liars. I wish Christians’ behavior and how they treat others didn’t affect whether or not people believe in God, but it does. The truth is that Christians are just as messed up as anyone else, but we view them differently.

When I start to doubt the existence of God, I remember Joshua 1:8, and I know he is real. That knowledge is what empowers me to speak against hypocrisy. I’m not judging anyone, but I won’t be silent about it.

In Defense of My Own Truth and Humanity


You need to stop trying to fit me into categories familiar to you but are inaccurate in describing my motives or character. Guilty people seem to feel vulnerable around truthful people because you think someone who strives to be an honest person exposes the dishonesty in your own character. I have been hurt by lies and inhumanity myself that has made me care so much about truth and humanity. I have learned that a lot of people are very uncomfortable with the idea of realness.
People get downright vicious towards me. I have had people repeat every bad thing I have ever done to accuse and convince themselves that I’m a fraud. Guilty people feel so threatened by my effort to be truthful and humane that you seem to think I need to be reminded of my weaknesses and failures.
I have been dehumanized and forgotten by the cruelest people who mattered enough to me that their actions and rejection continue to hurt. There is a corruptness in guilty people that makes you desperate to prove that anyone who proclaims to be truthful and genuinely humane must be a fraud. But in your desperation, all you do is project your lies, hate, and insecurities onto me.
I’m sorry if you’re uncomfortable with me. I do realize that I’m a flawed human being. I lie sometimes, but I try not to lie. I strive to treat everyone with humanity, but sometimes I have trouble seeing the humanity in people who have hurt me or others. It’s not easy for me to be like this either.
The nature of my character causes people to attack and accuse me. I’m not sitting atop some self-righteous perch, with a smug smile, thanking people for accusing me. I’m human, and when you accuse me, I feel pain. When you betray me and spit lies at me like bullets to justify your betrayal, it hurts. When you tell me and others how bad I am, it feels like I’m getting a beating when you’re really describing yourself. But when others decide to hate me based on what you said about me, that’s not your fault; it’s theirs.
I choose to be truthful and humane because those things about you that you use to hurt others, you have used to hurt me. I never want to make anyone feel the way you have made me feel.
This post is not addressed to a single person. It is addressed to a composite of people who have tried their best to discredit me to make themselves feel better about their own corruptness. And although the nature of your character will probably cause you to read this post as having an accusatory tone, I am not accusing anyone. I’m only honestly addressing a problem I encounter often.

48 Hours in London 


In 1979, when my brother was sixteen, he went to London and got detained for two days at Heathrow. I was fifteen, but it was up to me to find out what happened to him because I’m kinda gifted in that area.
He wasn’t permitted to use the phone, so I had to figure out what happened with no clues. After many phone calls to airport security, American Embassy, and the airline, I was able to pin him down at the airport detention center.
I learned the reason he was detained was that he told customs he planned to live there. They never told me they were sending him back, but on a hunch, I thought they might be planning to do that.
For no particular reason, I suspected he would be on a flight from JFK that was arriving at Will Rogers the second night. We hadn’t spoken to him since before he left. Still, I talked my mother into driving to the Oklahoma City airport from Altus on nothing but a hunch.
I was nervous while watching the passengers getting off the plane. I was afraid my hunch might be wrong since it was a long shot.
As it turned out, he was on that flight, and he bounced into the terminal with his Gilligan hat and a huge smile. That made me angry. How dare he be so carefree and oblivious to what he put us through for the last 48 hours.
The phone bill was over a thousand dollars that month. Doc had given me a sailboat that I was looking forward to trying out at the lake but hadn’t yet been out in it. Doc sold the boat to pay the phone bill.
My brother soon became a world traveler. He has visited over fifty countries.
I have never been sailing.
My boat was a 12′ Challenger, but it did look a lot like this one.

You Need a New Lens


I’ve been patient, polite, and tolerant in extreme measures to people who support Donald Trump, but to be honest, Trump supporters are not just wrong about him. These are people who are looking at life through one hell of a distorted lens. Not everything is subjective. Bigotry is never okay.
If you think certain groups of people are less human than you, the lens from which you see the world is distorting your view. If you feel you’re superior to people of color, to women, to gays, Muslims or Jews, or any marginalized group, you’re a racist, a misogynist, and a bigot.
Suppose you think this country needs a wall along the Mexican border. In that case, that undocumented immigrants need to be rounded up and deported, that Mexico sends us their rapists and murderers, that Muslims should be banned, that sexual harassment is not to be taken seriously, and that Donald Trump speaks for you. You are in the lowest common denominator, and Trump isn’t appealing to your intellect– He’s appealing to your emotions and fears. It’s a cheap shameless way to get a vote. The masses have always been upset about generalized issues, foolishly believing there is an easy solution to the problems in our country.
Now, there’s a narcissistic demagogue named Donald Trump, who’s clever enough to convince you that he alone can fix all your problems. But the more I hear him speak, the less intelligent I think he is. He really just views the world the same way you do. So you, the lowest common denominator, and Donald Trump relate to one another over these biases. I get that you think someone is finally speaking for you, but he’s really only saying what you want to hear, so you’ll vote for him, chant his name, and feed his ego. You are being used and manipulated.
I don’t think Trump supporters are necessarily stupid, but it’s not your intelligence at work here. It’s your fears and hatred of all of the terrible ways you think your country has let you down–and along comes this larger-than-life figure who understands you like no one ever has. Only Trump can’t fix these perceived wrongs any more than anyone can because some problems are a matter of perspective. The country isn’t broken. Your lens is broken.
If Trump is elected, you’re still going to see the same problems you see now because that’s the way you view the world. Donald Trump doesn’t care about what is going to happen when you finally figure out he can’t fix all your problems because his only mission at the moment is to win at all costs. He won’t know what to do when he gets there, but he doesn’t care for now. For him, it’s about the win.

Best Laid Plans


I am learning that folks in the Northeast are not as impressed with my qualifications as I had hoped. So after months of a disappointing job search, I decided to take a different approach.  Actually, I’m just going back to my original plan to become a teacher.

 

To become an alternatively certified teacher in Oklahoma, I will be required to take at least one credit hour of post graduate coursework. So here’s what is going to happen. I am enrolled at Cameron in the graduate program to study to become a reading specialist. Sometime after January I am going to take the OSAT for English teachers. If I pass, I’ll be alternatively certified. I will take the OPTE last.  That’s the Oklahoma Professional Teaching Exam. When I finish grad school, I’ll be able to take the test to be a reading specialist. Then I will be considered standard certified which means my certification will be reciprocal in Virginia.
Then I can go to Virginia, take their certification and reading specialist test, and boom! I’ll be employable in Virginia, and I can finally get out of Oklahoma.  I think I can get it all done in less than three years. I wish Cameron had a concentration in adult literacy since I want to work with adults. I am hoping that as a reading specialist I will be skilled in working with adults.
So I will start classes in August. I’m not super excited. At this point I am just doing what I need to do to become employable. I will probably substitute teach along the way.

Success isn’t a Secret, it’s a Decision


Back to school one last time started on May 29, 2014. I was more afraid I would quit again than I was fiercely determined to press on.

Billy came home in October that year, and I was afraid he would derail me. Later he became very supportive, which helped me to start believing I might really graduate.

Then our dog died, Billy got a brain bleed, refused treatment, moved out, decided to come home, but died only a few hours after we decided he should come home, in December 2015.

I don’t know how I got through the spring 2016 semester. Billy died only three weeks before the semester started, and I was consumed with grief when I returned to school in the spring. I was very afraid I would quit again, since in the past I usually quit school whenever life got overwhelming. Dr. Hodgson, the department chair was also concerned I might drop out because it had always been my pattern.

It took me over fifty years to learn that successful people are the ones who choose a path, set goals, and keep going no matter how hard life gets at times.

I missed out on a lot by not learning the path to success a long time ago. Yes, it’s good that I figured it out, but not nearly as rewarding because many opportunities were squandered.

Life really is very short. We have to make the most of every moment we’re given to live the best life we can live.

 There are Certain Things Every Educated Person should Know


Three college professors influenced me the most of every teacher I ever had in my life. Donna Evers taught me how to write a news story. I liked her because she loved newspapers like me. She taught us to report the news when not every story was breaking news. You could smell the ink as soon as you walked through the doors of the Lawton Constitution. The newsroom energy was exhilarating with desk phones ringing, typewriters clanking, and reporters hurrying to meet deadlines. The news was Donna Evers world, and in 1983 she taught me about that world in Intro to Journalism at Cameron University. Since then, journalism has changed a lot, and I am grateful to have been taught by an old-school journalist and to have been a part of that exciting, vibrant culture for a moment in my life.

Larry Shanahan taught me how to write an academic paper. He had to, really. He already liked the way I wrote and had recommended me for his wife’s honor’s English class when he found out I didn’t know how to write a research paper. In those days, the university didn’t even have a writing lab, so he tutored me. He is the reason I know how to research and write an organized paper.

Mary Shanahan taught me how to analyze literature. She believed in authorial intent. She said the writers had a specific message in mind when they wrote a story. When she first walked into Comp II class circa 87, her stance was commanding and fierce. The chatter among the students stopped, and we all looked at her because we could tell she would say something we needed to know. She said,

“What important event happened from 1914 to 1918?”

She expected an answer. To everyone’s relief, one student knew the answer.

“World War I,” he said with confidence.

“That’s right,” she said. “Do you know why I asked you all that question? Because there are certain things that every educated person needs to know.”

These three professors taught me how to think and filter through the sludge and find the truth.

On May 11, 2016, Mary Shanahan died six days after I finally got my bachelor’s degree in English literature. I would come and go from Nance Boyer hall at Cameron University so many times in 33 years. My memories walked those halls with me every time I was there. I ran down the stairs with Susan Jackson, hurrying off to somewhere, laughing about something. I watched Kevin Bartram develop photos for the Collegian in his darkroom. The Center for Writers is located in the old Collegian offices now. Kevin’s darkroom is their break room now. On May 4, 2016, I left Nance Boyer for the last time as an undergrad. My memories walked out with me. Mary Shanahan’s voice always echoed in Nance Boyer. Her presence resonated in the halls and classrooms. I imagine she’s enjoying a dry martini right about now. Thank you, Mrs. Shanahan. I’ll see you when I get there.

Go here to read a poignant tribute written by a family member.

Rudy Ramos opens Solo Fest at Whitefire Theater in Sherman Oaks, California with “Geronimo, Life on the Reservation”


If you live in Sherman Oaks, or happen to be in the area, Rudy Ramos is opening tonight, Saturday, January 3, 2015 at Whitefire Theater,  with his one man production of  “Geronimo, Life on the Reservation.”   Solo Fest is a popular event in the Los Angeles area, and  Ramos is thrilled with the opportunity to open the festival with his play. Whitefire Theater owner, Bryan Rasmussen invited Ramos to open Solofest with “Geronimo,” and has also scheduled the play to be performed on January, 10, 17, 24, 31, and February 7.  All performances will be on a Saturday night.

If you don’t live in the LA area, new tour dates are opening for “Geronimo” all the time. Take a look at the schedule to see when the production will be near you.  You may also book “Geronimo, Life on the Reservation” at a venue in your area. Since its opening last March in Tucson, at the High Chaparral Reunion, the requests for bookings have been steadily on the rise.

“Geronimo, Life on the Reservation picks up the story of the great Apache warrior from his surrender in Arizona in 1886, and continues through his death in Lawton, Oklahoma in 1909. This is a part of Geronimo’s story that has never been told, and Ramos portrays Geronimo with honesty, humor, and compelling perspective that has the audience believing that they are watching Geronimo himself.

Here is a video of Ramos as Geronimo that was recorded at the High Chaparral Reunion in March. This clip is the opening of the play:

Author, Janelle Meraz Hooper, wrote the script for “Geronimo, Life on the Reservation,” and you can look at her website here.

2015 is going to be a big year for Ramos, and “Geronimo, Life on the Reservation.”  Be sure to check the schedule to find out when there will be a performance in your area.

Nearly 105 Years after Geronimo’s Death, Rudy Ramos Gives a Voice to the Great Apache Warrior


Geronimo has been the subject of movies before; Chuck Conners played Geronimo in Geronimo 1962, and in 1993 Wes Studi took on the legend in Geronimo: An American Legend.  In the 1950’s  Desilu western television show,  The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp, Earp befriends Geronimo.  But no one has ever resurrected the Spirit of Geronimo, and allowed himself to become the embodiment of the Great Apache Warrior turned prisoner of war… until now.

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Rudy Ramos, a Lawton, Oklahoma native, returned home to perform his one man stage production of Geronimo, Life on the Reservation, written by Janelle Meraz Hooper on Saturday, May 3, 2014.  Ramos has been on the road touring with his live production of Geronimo, Life on the Reservation since March 22, 2014 when the show premiered in Tucson at the annual 2014 High Chaparral Reunion.

Ramos’s performance before a hometown crowd at The Lawton Community Theater did not disappoint.  A full house eagerly welcomed the actor home.  While waiting for the show to begin, the local audience chattered amongst themselves about “how they knew Rudy.” Image

The chattered died down when Ramos took his place on stage for act one.  The play begins in 1886 Arizona as Geronimo prepares to surrender to the US government, and Ramos’s audience travels back in time and becomes Geronimo’s audience.  As the play progresses, it becomes apparent that Geronimo takes great pleasure in entertaining an audience.  An enraptured crowd who thought they came to see Rudy Ramos play Geronimo is instead taken on a journey through time, hosted by Geronimo, that begins at the warrior’s surrender in Arizona, and ends in Lawton, Oklahoma, 1909, shortly before his death.

Through Ramos, Geronimo is allowed to share his innermost thoughts with his audience.  We see more than just another side to Geronimo.  We are given access to his mind and his spirit so that we are able to understand who Geronimo really was and how he made the decision to surrender, not to give up, but to preserve the future of the Apache tribe.

Ramos’s brilliant performance was unquestionably worthy of the approval of Geronimo, himself.  To no one’s surprise, Ramos received a standing ovation, and afterwards was mobbed by audience members who wanted the chance to get autographs, pictures, and meet the man who took us all on a riveting journey that left every single person spellbound in the end.

To find out more about Geronimo, Life on the Reservation click hereTo learn more about the author, Janelle Meraz Hooper click here. To find out about the next High Chaparral Reunion click here.

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