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Community Kindness Countdown to Christmas: These teachers inspired and motivated us to reach for the stars

Frank Piccolo, Larry Bobbie, and Skip Bailey were the Three Amigos at Korah Collegiate in the 1970s

Until now, these profiles have all focussed on great individuals who are still hanging around, and living here among us.  I need to write about three individuals who impacted my life in a very influential and positive manner, and so here it is - their posthumous story.

Perhaps the greatest of all professions is that of teaching. No one, other than our parents, can have so much influence on a life as a good teacher can. I need to tell you the tale of three of the greatest, three of the best, three teachers who will always be remembered by me. I call them the Three Amigos because they were also the best of friends.

Yes this is the legend of Frank Piccolo, Larry Bobbie, and Skip Bailey – three teachers at Korah Collegiate in the 1970s. Frank was a chemistry teacher, Larry was a guidance counsellor, and Skip was a biology teacher. All three had graduated from teachers’ college about the same time, all three were relatively young, fresh and vibrant newbies to the craft, and all three were masters of their craft.

Larry was my badminton coach (he produced a ton of provincial level players), and he guided me through those crazy high school years, Frank and Skip taught me several courses over the duration of high school, and all three became friends of mine after high school graduation.  The saddest thing about their story, is all three died relatively young, and long before they were finished giving the gift of themselves to folks on this planet. I miss them all dearly.

The Three Amigos were the core of the teaching staff at Korah at the time. And you had to remember, Korah was a tough west end school back in the 70s. It was not the shining star it is today with the Baccalaureate program, all star sports programs, and academic ratings that lead the region. The Bayview kids, the farm community from Prince Township and Baseline, the gang from Gros Cap, and the kids of working class parents made up the student role. These were tough kids, and Korah teachers had their work cut out for them keeping us on the straight and narrow.

And the Three Amigos, the three goof-offs as you might call them knew what they had to do. They loved these tough students in their charge, and they showed their love with dedication, and empathy and compassion toward all of us. If that meant dressing up as rock stars for the Christmas concert, and pounding on electric guitars and lip syncing the lyrics to KISS tunes, then that is what they did.  Kids went wild. Loved them. Cheered them on as real rock stars.

If that meant planning a huge day off of school in the middle of winter to give us a massive winter carnival, complete with teams competing in winter games on the snow, ice, and hardwood, then that is what they, and the other teachers, would do. These guys put on the aprons and ran the bbq canteen that fed eleven hundred kids sausages and hot dogs during those special events.

And if that meant sitting down one on one with a kid who was struggling with the concept of the periodic table in chemistry, or how the digestive system of a bullfrog worked, then they would provide the extra help needed. That is just what they did. They cared for every student in their charge.

Their classes were wildly entertaining, and I truly believe they set up their classroom as a stage production that they rehearsed and prepared for long in advance. Engaging, lively, and fun to be in comes to mind. Can you imagine a fun chemistry or biology class? These guys could pull it off.

And to really get to know the students in their charge, they all became involved in coaching sports. You see the kids at a whole other level when you coach them, and these guys were so generous with their time, and commitment to the kids of Korah.

Larry will perhaps always be remembered in my mind as the greatest high school coach who ever lived.  He took the sport of badminton, and these tough west end kids, and he created athletes who competed at the Ontario level. Never mind the City Championships and NOSSA, we wanted to compete at OFSAA.  He got us there with a love and knowledge for the game, and a love for us.

When I attended teachers’ college, we were always told by our professors and instructors, never mind all of the pedagogy and learning here, you will all teach in the same manner as your favourite teachers from your days in school. I tried to model their behaviour and their way of being in my own years as a teacher.  I hope I was able to pull it off.

And so I mention these Three Amigos because I know we all have teachers in our lives who inspired and motivated us to reach for the stars, or reach for the heavens, or reach for the whatever.

These dudes did it for me, and I am forever grateful.

I guess in hindsight, with the help and giving spirit of Frank, Larry, Skip, and their teaching colleagues, Korah Collegiate truly was a shining star in those early 1970s years.

And I’d be willing to bet that up there somewhere in the other world, Frank is kicking Skip’s butt in racquetball, Skip is boasting that it really was him who won the match, and Larry is counselling them both to just get along and work together as a team.

They were the best team. Thank you good sirs.

I hope your families all have a blessed and joyous Christmas, and know that you three are right there beside them.

Your student and your friend, Frank O’Connor

Frank O'Connor and his wife Gail are the owners and operators of Voyageur Lodge and Cookhouse in Batchawana Bay. He's writing a profile a day leading up to Dec. 24, featuring people who have given back to their community in a positive way through their good deeds and work.