Pocahontas volunteer teaches last lesson
By Chris Vrba
“Great job! Now, send over the next one,” Tike Strathman told little Sam White on a Friday afternoon.
And so it was. After a decade of helping Pocahontas Catholic School students learn their multiplication tables, the venerable Strathman had taught his last lesson.
“I love the kids,” Tike said shortly after the last student had left. “I can see them change so much.”
Strathman, whose portrait studio was a staple of Main Street for decades, said he first began volunteering at the PCS shortly after his wife, Annette, passed away in 2004.
“I had lost my wife. My daughter, Wanda, set it up to talk to the principal,” he reflected, “and the next thing I knew, I was in here working with the kids.”
For a decade, Tike would spend four mornings a week coming in to help the kids practice their budding math skills; mostly multiplication, but ultimately, whatever skill the kids needed to brush up on the most.
And throughout his adult life, Strathman put those skills to use on a day-to-day basis.
“Just before I got out of the Navy. I was a store keeper,” he related. “I had to figure out everything - from meals, to supplies, to munitions - and how much it was costing the government.”
That experience carried over into his business, as well as his free time. “You can do many things with math,” he remarked, noting some of his favorite games and card tricks employ the same skills utilized by Pythagoras and Gallileo centuries before.
Not that Tike would put himself in the same category as those ancient scholars, but in his golden years Strathman’s carved a somewhat similar role for himself - that of venerated tutor.
When Tike’s working with one of the students, the lessons learned over the years are reworked with each student. On his last Friday, Strathman spent time with kids working on multiplication tables - mostly 7s. Often it’s easy-breezy through the low numbers, but many times the kids would get stuck as the factors got larger.
And when the kids got stuck, that’s where Tike’s tutelage would shine through. One littler learner was struggling with 8x7. The child was thinking, working it through in their head, but just couldn’t quite get it.
The child quickly replied, “Twenty-eight!”
And then, “Oh! Fifty-six!”
It’s problems like that where Tike’s experience can really help the kids learn their lessons.
“When you finally get them up to the larger numbers,” Strathman said of his teaching strategy, “you just back it down, and they pick it up pretty quick.”
This year, Strathman had to back it down himself. At 89, Father Time’s catching up with the man who spent much of his life in the studio freezing forever on film the fleeting moments that give life meaning.
Macular degeneration has taken its toll on Tike. “I’m basically blind,” he said bluntly.
As a result, he spent three days a week at the school - still, a significant sum.
That, of course, was until he finished his final lesson.
“I’ve decided it’s time to do something else,” he shared.
As for what that is, Tike wasn’t so sure. “I haven’t any idea. The weather’s been perfect for reading. I’m an avid reader, but I have to listen to (the books) on tape.”
Tike added that there are plenty of folks from his generation around the community who could come in and help the next generation of Pocahontans be better students.
“There’s a lot of people who could be volunteering,” he noted. “It could be reading. Just listen to them, that’s all you have to do.”
Just after recess wrapped up, all of the Pocahontas Catholic students gathered in the lunch room for a special program to say thanks to Strathman.
On the wall, a large banner was hung. It read “We love you Tike.” Every student signed their name on individual hearts cut from construction paper. A handful of multiple problems were on the banner, too.
“This is big, because you take time out of your day to help influence and develop our kids,” said principal Terry Eisenbarth at the start of Strathman’s celebration. “You’ve captured all of our hearts here.”
Then, Eisenbarth led the students in a special rap written especially for Tike. “He’s full of wisdom/He’s full of care/Tike is a great/He’s loved everywhere/He helps us be the best we can be/In our fun basic math facts fluency” went the chorus.
“It was the greatest experience of my life. I just tried to help walk you through school,” Tike told the room. “I love you all very, very much.”
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