So long, Mr. Bohage

We all have people who shape who we are today: our parents, teachers, professional mentors. I hope you’ll forgive me if I digress from boating today to tell you a little about someone who had a profound impact on my life.

Over the weekend, we lost a great educator. He’s nobody you would know unless you were from DeForest, Wis., the small town I grew up in. But for anyone who had him for a class at DeForest High School, Mr. Charles Bohage was a larger-than-life figure.

He taught in the social studies department, where I had him for what was called “20th Century Studies” my junior year – a combination of history and civics.

There are many facets of Mr. Bohage’s personality that stick with me today, as I’m sure they do for many of his students. His dry sense of humor; his penchant for calling everyone “Mr.” or “Miss”; his year-end picture test; his ability to call you on your BS on an essay test with nothing more than a small drawing of a shovel.

But that wasn’t the most important thing about Mr. Bohage.

At my small school, there were few opportunities for advanced coursework and as someone who had always excelled in school I was admittedly able to coast by with little effort. Until I got to Mr. Bohage’s class.

He believed in challenging the best students. For example, as the year started, everyone got the same tests, but those of us who excelled were given more difficult tests as the year went on. We were also assigned extra papers or projects.

For me, this was a revelation. He made it clear he wouldn’t accept my minimum effort. His job, he believed, wasn’t just to test our knowledge, but to test our limits. He wasn’t just getting us through that one year; he was preparing us for the tougher challenges that were going to come in college and beyond.

There’s no doubt in my mind those efforts played a role in my future success, and I can honestly say I never had a better teacher than him.

I do have one negative memory, though, about Mr. Bohage and it is a big one. I never told him what an impact he had on my life. I can’t be sure why. I could say I was always busy, there was never a chance, etc., but really how much time does it take to let someone know that they’ve been an important figure in your life?

I’d like to think he knew, and is reading this somewhere, as well as seeing the outpouring of praise for him on Facebook and elsewhere from his many former students — although I’m sure he’d respond with one of his trademark phrases: “You are entitled to your opinion, however wrong it may be.”

It’s prompted me this week to reach out to a professional mentor of mine to let them know how they’ve helped shape my career. I urge you to do the same for that teacher, family member or employer that has been important in making you who you are today.

So here’s to your Mr. Bohage, and this time, no shovel required.

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  1. So wonderfully said, Jay! He was by far my favorite teacher at DeForest High. Thanks for the tribute!

  2. Jonathan,
    Please send this letter you wrote to Chuck Bohage’s wife Doris .S he would love seeing this I told her a lot of his former students were posting on facebook which she nor her kids are on or aren’t friends with so can’t see them. Thank You Rita Bliese

  3. He certainly had a way in bringing out the best in his students. The only history class I ever looked forward to. He was an amazing teacher and person. Thanks for the tribute.

  4. What a great tribute!

  5. LaTina Epps Thomas

    Thank you so much for putting into words what so much Of us are feeling! I too was one of those that was challenged to do more! I remember every morning going into his office and getting donuts and coffee! I loved him! Fortunately as an adult I was able to go back and introduce him to my family and tell him how much he meant to me! He was a great man!!!!!!!!

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