Dan and How Did I Get Here? – KGUA #89 – Lynn Nelson

Hannah and I were selected to participate in the June 5, 2022 Public Reading in Gualala, California for KGUA Radio Writers hosted by Peggy Berryhill and Mark Gross.  As you might have guessed, we didn’t make an appearance but recorded our voice memos and sent them to Mark.  We were asked to freewrite to the following prompt:

How did I get here?

Long after our personal heroes pass on, they dwell within.  Lynn Nelson is one such hero and played his part to get me where I am today. 

It’s Phoenix, Arizona.  I am at loose ends wondering if this teaching career of mine, now six years old, is right for me.  I teach fourth graders at Nevitt Elementary School on the edge of the inner city.  As a self-contained classroom teacher, I am expected to teach all subjects (i.e. reading, math, spelling, science, social studies, and handwriting).

Even then, standardized testing was doing its best to screw up American education.  The focus of my teaching was reading and math, the subjects that were tested at that time.  Though I was pretty good at organizing masses of kids (class sizes were 30+), such teaching just wasn’t making it for me.  I was floundering.

To save myself, I took an unpaid leave of absence to return to Arizona State University to be certified in the teaching of high school English.  One of my classes was Teaching English in the Secondary School with Dr. Lynn Nelson.  On the first day of class, I couldn’t miss that this professor didn’t dress like a professor – jeans and a shirt with no tie.  Immediately that put me at ease.  He wasn’t Dr. Nelson, he was Lynn.


We were going to keep a journal to experiment in writing.  We had a voice in his class, both in writing and speaking.  Lecturing was just not his style.

During this fall semester, I was also taking a poetry writing course.  Each week students would submit a piece of poetry and a few would be selected to read theirs in class, then the class would give feedback to the student poet. 

Mid-semester I wrote about dealing with troubling relationships.  Did the professor ever mock my efforts!  He called my piece “doggerel.”  One, though I got the sense this description wasn’t a compliment, I had to look up what doggerel meant (poetry that was badly written).  Two, he said it to the whole class.

His shaming crushed me. I just shut down.  I quit going to class which was so unlike the obedient student that I had been through high school and college.  I was going to fail my first class.  I didn’t care.

One afternoon in mid-November three weeks later, I saw Lynn in front the Language and Literature building as he was advising students.  Feeling safe enough to tell him of my experience with the poetry professor, I appreciated that he was offended that any professor would treat a student that way.  He then said, “I’ve seen your writing.  You’re good.  Keep at it.”  He threw me a life preserver right when I needed it.

I did eventually return to the poetry class, silenced and docile.  I ended up with a D in the class.

Lynn’s teaching showed me that the relationships in the classroom are what matters.  We teachers are to support our students and give them hope, not judge and rank them with grades.  Every kid has a story and needs to be seen as the individual they are. 

I got here to have the courage to freewrite for KGUA on the shoulders of Lynn Nelson.

Postscript: Fifteen years later, I published a book of poetry, Sweet Dreams, Robyn, a narrative series of 60 poems about our family dealing with our four-year-old daughter’s leukemia. 

We were asked to write a brief bio to accompany our piece.

Dan Rothermel of York, Maine is a decent sort.  He and his ilk like to get after it.  Working out at the Y, pickling on the court, walking the beach, and hiking the trails in Utah and California.  With his wife Hannah, when it gets cold, he gets away to Carpinteria, California, their winter time home away from home.

Carpinteria morning

Dan Remembers on President’s Day – KGUA #79

It’s Presidents’ Day February 21, 2022.  For KGUA Radio Writer’s Hour hosted by Peggy Berryhill and Mark Gross, we are asked to freewrite to the following prompt: Tell us about a moment with a president.

Irish Hall, ASU

There must have been 20 of us gathered around a black and white TV on the first floor at my Irish Hall dorm at Arizona State University in early December 1969.  My buddies, Gale, Steve, Rich, and I were watching and waiting for our birthdays to appear on the screen.

You see the selective service was holding a lottery to draft males 18 and over to fight in the war in Southeast Asia.  A war supported by both Democratic and Republican Presidents

Though at the time I was an elementary education major, I had been an apolitical political science major before that.  Southeast Asia was so far away.  My focus was elsewhere. I played on the tennis team.  I was dating and not dating my fetching girlfriend.  I had a student deferment, but now as a senior at ASU, that deferment was coming to an end.   I was ripe for the plucking. 

MIne was 078!

Stuffed shirts in suits and ties from Selective Service selected September 14 first.  That meant that everyone born on that date from 1944 to 1950 would be the first to go to war.  For that draft, the first 195 birthdates selected would be eligible to be drafted in 1970.  All I had to do was not be in the first 195.

More birthdates were announced.  I wasn’t in the first twenty-five or the even first fifty.  And then I was hit with a barrage of bricks.  My birthday, December 27, was selected #78.  I had lost the biggest lottery of my life. 

Or had I?

You see, that moment helped me clarify what was important.  What direction my life would head.

And I wasn’t going to war.

Words – 269

Dan, the Risk Taker, You’re Kidding, Right? – KGUA #71

For the December 27, 2021 KGUA radio Morning Writer’s Hour hosted by Mark Gross and Peggy Berryhill in Gualala, California, we are asked to freewrite to this prompt: RISK! What does this mean to you?

Risks Taken

Do any of you feel that the risks you have taken are the best things you have ever done in your life and did those risks occur when you were at the lowest of your lows?

For me, it is a yes and a sometimes.

As a kid and into my early twenties I was aimlessly wallowing, sadly swallowing the company line and being the good boy.

Then with everything falling apart around me at the College of Wooster in Ohio (by that I mean girlfriend issues), I took the risk to transfer to Arizona State University.  Crushed it! Life was trending up thanks to a new start.

Within the year Uncle Sam wanted me to fight in Viet Nam.  I took the risk to say no.  It was a long drawn out struggle but the universe agreed with me.  But first, I had to let the universe know what I wanted.

New England

Ten years into our marriage, Hannah and I took the risk to follow our dreams of raising a family in New England and leave the Phoenix metro area.  I had no job, had never lived east of the Hudson River, and we had two daughters under three in tow.  And we did all this in January.  Forty years later we are living the dream in small town New England.

Never quite finding my footing as a public school teacher, I quit in my late forties and took the risk of following another dream of teaching at the university level.  Three years later the good folks at Eastern Connecticut State University confirmed that I was worth the risk.

I gotta tell you it was all worth the risk

Words –  274

Dan and Who He Is Thankful For – KGUA #66

For this morning’s (November 8, 2021) KGUA radio Morning Writer’s Hour hosted by Peggy Berryhill and Mark Gross in Gualala, California, we are asked to freewrite to this prompt: “Who are you thankful for?”

It’s my guys.  Rich and Steve and Nobes and Pfohl.   

Tubing on the Salt River

You see, as a first-born I was obedient to the max.  No surprise that I always colored inside the lines.  In high school in New Jersey, my grades were fine, nothing spectacular.  SATs?  Math up, Verbal down.

College in Ohio about the same pattern until I was just so unhappy that I said the hell with it.  I left for the Wild, Wild West in 1969.  And by that I mean, Arizona State University.

Not knowing a soul in the dorm (Irish Hall), I put myself out there and met up with four other out-of-staters.  We’d go to the Salt River north of Scottsdale for tubing with brewskis.  We stopped eating in Manzanita (dorm) cafeteria and came up with our own meal plan: Tuesday night at Hobo Joe’s for forty-nine cents all-you-can-eat pancakes and regularly at the Dash Inn on Apache Boulevard for forty cent beef burritos and fifteen cent iced tea.

Tempe, home to Arizona State University

Impulsively one weekend we drove 400 miles to Tijuana, Mexico to check out the scene.  Another time over Thanksgiving, Rich and I hitchhiked 120 miles to Tucson where on one ride we were kicked out of the car because we couldn’t pay and then were pelted with eggs as they drove off. 

My guys brought me out of my shy, introverted shell.  My confidence grew and my agency, a fancy way of saying that I realized I had choices.

With my growing self-confidence I went sight unseen to Anaheim, California for my first teaching job and had a willingness to challenge Uncle Sam on his plans for me in Viet Nam.

The guys showed me that there was a big, beautiful world out there that I never knew I could choose.  And for that I am thankful for Rich and Steve and Nobes and Pfohl.

Words – 297

A November 2021 update of my guys.

Dan, Rich, Amelia, and Nobes circa 2018, a mini-49th year reunion of our first year at Arizona State

Pfohl – First name Art, a Viet Nam War veteran who died some fifteen years ago, likely from complications from exposure to Agent Orange.

Steve – Big Steve, a successful entrepreneur from Virginia, died ten years ago of a heart attack.  I remain close with his widow, Amelia, and his sons, Brandon and Justin.

Nobes – First name Gale, an artiste and environmentalist who to this day walks the walk caring for the planet on the shores of Lake Michigan.

Rich – Inspired by Nobes to take up photography, built a successful small business with his wife Mary as wedding photographers; at each wedding his goal remains to highlight the bride so she looks radiant on her day.

Dan and His Choice for the Next National Holiday for KGUA radio #54

For the June 28, 2021 KGUA radio Morning Writer’s Hour hosted by Mark Gross and Peggy Berryhill in Gualala, California, we are asked to freewrite on What Would You Make a National Holiday? Why?

Though I applaud my colleague and friend, David Stoloff’s choice of a National Voting Day, my choice is a National Holiday to celebrate Native Americans.  We as a country have done as much damage to Native Americans as we have to African-Americans.

Trail of Tears

I submit that we honor our first Americans by acknowledging the Trail of Tears.  The Trail of Tears was the government sponsored pogrom in the 1830s and 1840s to banish the Cherokee and other tribes from their ancestral homes in the Southeast to parched lands west of the Mississippi River.

Now this is where I come in.

After aimlessly going through the motions as a political science major at the College of Wooster in Ohio, I transferred to Arizona State University in 1969 to major in education with the idea of teaching on the Navajo Reservation in northern Arizona.  Within two weeks, I realized that the Native Americans in my Intro class were not really thrilled with having one more well-intentioned white boy come to teach their children. 

So, I changed course that eventually led me to teach a diverse group of kids (Chicano, Anglo, and African-American) in first Anaheim, California and next in Phoenix, Arizona.  Ironically, there in Arizona during the 1970s, I also taught Yaqui Indian kids from the Guadalupe neighborhood in Tempe. 

Who knew there was already such a day in the works? Not me.

I was woefully unprepared to give my students a nuanced approach to American history.  My lack of knowledge of the stories, the trauma, and the genocide of Native Americans was predictable given my own education. 

I believe a National Holiday honoring Native Americans would begin a conversation and greater understanding of our First Americans.

 Words – 258


Dan is Home in the Desert – KGUA #48

For the May 10, 2021 KGUA radio Morning Writer’s Hour, we are asked to put Home at the top of the page and freewrite away in less than 300 words.    

First home in the Desert

As young newly-weds in the Valley of the Sun in the early 1970s, Hannah and I began looking for a house within walking distance of the U, by that I mean Arizona State University. 

A little three bedroom, one-story place at just under $21K looked out the window and called our names.  Hardly able to contain our enthusiasm, we offered a thousand less.  They countered that for the original price they’ll include all the furniture for the entire house.  And so we had our first home at the corner of Roosevelt and West 16th Street.

Swamp cooler

Our neighbors got a good laugh when we bought a push mower to cut the thick, wide-bladed St. Augustine grass.  With Arizona’s constant sunshine and irrigation water from the town that covered our lawn like a small pond, the grass flourished and needed constant cutting.  Out of the blue, the Tempe Garden Club put a sign in our yard that we were the Lawn-of-the-Month.

Raised in the Northeast, Hannah and I thought, what says Arizona more than a backyard pool?   Paying $5K for the in-ground 40′ pool, the cool decking, and all the tile, we had our antidote to the dry, oven-like heat of the Phoenix metropolitan area.

Without air-conditioning for the 115 degree summer days, we did have a swamp cooler on our roof.  Swamp coolers operate by water dripping down reed mats and then a fan blows cool air into the house.  Though functional for low humidity days in May and June, swamp coolers provide little relief in the humidity of July, August, and September. 

Even so, we were living the dream in our first home in the desert.

Though the address is the same, this house at 542 West Sixteenth Street bears little resemblance to the one we bought. You see, we lived there from 1973-1979 and sold the house for $56K. In 1990 a fire in the fireplace we had built for us destroyed the house. This is quite the rebuild. The wisely put in a lawn that needed no watering.

Surprisingly, the pool was not damaged at all when the fire destroyed the house. This is the very pool we had built in 1974. In the summers, the pool temp was 90F. Not the refreshing dip to cool off you might imagine.
Hemmed in all sides, Tempe has little place to grow.

We indeed were a simple ten minute bike ride to the U!

Dan and Name Calling – KGUA radio #42

For the March 29, 2021 KGUA radio Morning Writer’s Hour, we are asked to free write about name calling.  But for me, I have a twist.

It’s always a twist with you, Dan, Mark and loyal KGUA writers must be thinking.  Well folks, that’s the beauty of what Mark has created for us KGUA writers.  He gives us a starting point and we find our own path.  If only my schooling had been that way.

My name calling came to light in the last few years.  We both were new students at the U, by that I mean, Arizona State University.  Three thousand miles from home, it turned out we went to high school five miles apart in north Jersey, though we never crossed paths then.

Bonding with the other out-of-staters of Irish Hall, we hung out at the main fountain at the crossroad of campus, during basketball games on the Apache Avenue courts, over burritos and iced tea at the Dash Inn, and on weekend evenings having a good ole time with our buddies on Camelback Mountain.

Eventually, we both moved back East to follow our passions, he as a photographer/magic maker on wedding days and me as a teacher/relationship builder in the public schools.

He and his wife would make an annual pilgrimage to Maine and for awhile we vacationed together for a few winter days on Sanibel Island on the west coast of Florida.

So my name calling comes easily when Rich and I finish our phone conversations.  Good talking with you, my friend

Words – 224

Climbing Mt Major in New Hampshire with my friend, Rich

Circa 2018 with Dan, Rich, Amelia (Big Steve’s widow) and Gale at an Arizona State mini-reunion after cornhole ()

Dan Runs Out of Excuses – KGUA radio free write #36

For the February 15, 2021 KGUA radio Morning Writer’s Hour, we are given this quote from George Washington – It is better to offer no excuse than a bad one.  What is a bad excuse you have overheard, been given, or, well, maybe even offered up yourself?

I’m going to make a hard left from our first president’s quote to think about a no excuse life.

You see, after three years in political science, I switched majors to elementary education.  After graduation, I lasted just fourteen weeks teaching fifth and sixth graders at Patrick Henry School in Anaheim, California.  I wondered about my place in teaching.

A year later, wanting to upgrade from my job as a bus boy, I gave teaching another shot at Holdeman Elementary in Tempe, Arizona.  Still, unsure and uneasy, three years in, I took a leave of absence to attend Arizona State to clear my head.

Nevitt Elementary, Phoenix, Arizona sixth graders (1978) [My students are now 55 years old!]

Returning to teach sixth graders, I had class meetings and organized teachers dealing with burn-out.  Alas, after three years, burned-out myself, I escaped back to ASU to earn a Master’s in exercise physiology.

Still hoping to find my home in the education game, I moved with Hannah from Arizona to Maine to teach middle schoolers in a more collaborative setting with teams of teachers.  Reasonably well-received, I still yearned for something more. 

Taking a sabbatical at the U (that is the University of New Hampshire), I had a taste of that something more, working with undergrads and non-traditional students in teacher education. 

Though I did return to middle schoolers for two years, I knew I had no more excuses at the age of 48 to do what was in my heart since my twenties.  Eager to teach at the university level, I enrolled in a PhD program in order to have the necessary sheepskin to make that dream come true.

Can’t you just feel George and Martha smiling down on me?

Words – 252

Dan’s Big Box at His Doorstep – KGUA radio free write #35 – The Arizona Days

For the February 8, 2021 KGUA radio Morning Writer’s Hour, I am asked to imagine that giant box has been delivered to our front step with my name on it.  What’s inside and what happens when I open it?

The UPS truck is pulling away when I open our front door to see a giant box on the doorstep.  Cutting the the packing tape, I find a tire tube from a pick-up truck, song lyrics, and a beer can.

You see, after a tumultuous junior year at the College of Wooster in Ohio, I transferred to Arizona State for my senior year.  As a Jersey boy, I didn’t know a soul.  I did meet a few guys over ping pong in the lounge at our Irish Hall dorm as well as when going for meals to Manzanita Hall, the girls’ dorm.

On weekends that September in 1969, all the Arizona kids would leave for their local homes and high school friends, leaving just a few of us in the dorm.  Bonding as out-of-staters (Rich and Art both from Jersey, too, Steve from Virginia, and Nobes from Michigan), we were always looking for things to do.  Over burritos at the Dash Inn near campus in Tempe, we hatched a plan to go tubing down the Salt River 20 miles out of town.

With the temps going north of 100 degrees, we loaded up the large tire tubes and a case of Coors Light in Steve’s Ford Falcon and Art’s Austin-Healey roadster. 

As I remember it, we tubed to the right of the “e” in Scottsdale

Developing a comradery fueled by multiple brewskis, we floated down the cooling Salt River on a desert afternoon, eventually belting out La Marseillaise, the French national anthem.  Allons, enfants de la patrie, Le jour de gloire est arrivé.

Our friendship has lasted a lifetime.  Today, I inflate the tube, grab a beer, and hum a Parisian melody to myself of days gone by.  A bon sante, mes amis.

Words – 274

Click here for a stirring YouTube rendition of La Marseillaise with closed caption in French and a translation in English.  (five minutes)

Click here for a film clip of Casablanca with Ingrid Bergman and Humphrey Bogart where La Marseillaise carries the day in Rick’s Café. (three minutes)

In French IV with Madame Anastassoff at Fair Lawn Senior High School (NJ), we learned and sang the Marseillaise in class. Little did I know that just four years later that song would exuberantly come to life in the desert of Arizona.

Dan’s Being Profiled and Judged – KGUA radio free write #34

For the February 1, 2021 KGUA radio Morning Writer’s Hour, we are asked to free write about a time when we felt judged/profiled. By someone else, by a group, and yes, even by ourselves.

Unaware that I was born into white privilege, I was never profiled by the police or judged harshly for my race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or spiritual beliefs. 

No, sadly, I profiled and judged myself.  As a teenager in New Jersey, I let self-doubt rule the day.  Though a good, not elite student, I was good at math.  Still I felt that high school physics was so beyond me.  It was for the really smart kids. 

Unsure of myself as a high school senior, I applied early admission to only one college, the College of Wooster in Ohio.  I doubted whether I would get into any other college than the local Paterson State.

After transferring from Wooster and graduating from Arizona State University with a degree in elementary education, I chose to teach at the elementary level since I didn’t think I could handle middle school kids.  Eight, nine year olds, I could do that.  Teenagers, no way.

I have no one to blame, not even myself.  I was a kid. What did I know?  

So what made me stop my self-limiting behavior.  I’d say sliding down the unhappiness scale and realizing it was time to start making decisions for myself.

Always wanting to do some California Dreamin’, just out of college, I took a teaching position in Anaheim not knowing a soul there.

That decision led to another and then another.  That’s how I got the ball rolling.

Words – 236