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Prologue to "Taming the Beast"

Submitted by Byron Sabol - December 15, 2007

This article is the prologue from the book "Taming the Beast" by Minonk native Byron Sabol. Mr. Sabol's book can be purchased through his website at

Nearly everyone I know - from first grade through highly successful careers in business, industry, and non-profit - has had to communicate and deal with some challenging personalities. Many of these individuals probably believe that the challenges they faced were so unique that no one on the planet had any experience of such staggering magnitude. I really doubt that they had anything on me. Let me explain.

I met my first difficult person early in my life. I was four years old (going on 19) when I smoked my first cigarette. As I sat on the front steps of my Daddy's tavern in Streator, Illinois, I eagle-eyed the 7-Up deliveryman flipping his cigarette towards my direction as if to say "come and get it." What was I to do? I had no choice. I went for it. Those first few drags on that cigarette I picked up off the ground made a man out of me. Four years old and I was in control of my own destiny. That was until the 7-Up man squealed on me and my Daddy came out and kicked my behind. This was my first encounter with a challenging personality - the 7-Up man. I refuse to drink 7-Up!

At the age of six I became the youngest altar boy in the history of St. Patrick's Parish in Minonk, Illinois. Never heard of Minonk? No problem. Few have. It's located between Chicago and Peoria and had, at the time, a population of 2,000 sans dogs, cats, hobos, and cows. I was not chosen to serve Mass in the first grade -most boys didn't start until the second grade - because of some self-defining spiritual powers. No, my family lived about 200 feet from the front door to St. Pat's Church and School, my Mother went to Mass everyday and my sister, Sharon, was the organist. The good nuns weren't stupid. When you have a resource so close, take advantage of it.

Now one of the resources I am referring to was not my extensive knowledge of Latin. You see my Daddy owned a tavern (sound familiar?) - The Glass Bar. As the nip in the fall air arrived, I would be asked by one of the nuns if my Daddy had anything that might help alleviate the pending colds that they were certain would soon befall them. Let's hear it for Barclay's Bourbon! The "nip" in the air interestingly coincided with the "nip" that would soon become available to these dedicated teachers. With certain regularity I was delivering a fifth of "cold remedy" to the rectory for the good nuns at St. Pat's.

In spite of my very cordial relations with several of the good sisters, I found myself facing a real personality challenge as I entered the 6th grade - Sister Mary Herman Joseph. Her name - Herman Joseph - was enough to send cold chills down the backs of mere mortals. She was, as was every nun who taught at St. Pat's, a very devote and hard working soul. There were times, however, when she may have taken her devotion a little too far. You see, she loved to hand out "triple problems" when kids acted up. Don't get me wrong, the kids who were on the receiving ends of these dreaded things usually deserved them. In fact, I believe I tied with Josh Brown to lead the class in triple problem reception. Josh had a bit of an advantage and a disadvantage in his claim to the title. His advantage was that he was three years older than anyone else in the class. His disadvantage is that he was three years older than anyone in the class. All of us were 12 years old and Josh was 15. You see Josh had fallen out of a hayloft on his head and was never quite the same.

Triple problems were a math challenge and if you were not a math wiz, and that included me, you could spend a lot of time working on those blasted things. We usually had to do them instead of going to recess, which added to the pain. If you didn't finish them during recess, you got a bonus - you got to take them home and finish them by the next school day.

Getting help at my house to solve the triple problems I was amassing was like executing a triple play in baseball - highly unlikely. My father never finished the fourth grade and English was his second language. I loved my Daddy, but he was no help. My mother finished an equivalent to high school, and I loved my Mother, but she was far from a math major. In spite of familial shortcomings, the triple problems got done and Sister Herman Joseph took early retirement. Thank the Lord for big favors!

Any experience I would have with triple problems paled in comparison to some of the other challenges at St. Pat's. Take Allan Johnson for example. Following the noon lunch break one day, kids in the 7th and 8th grade were back at their desks ready for the afternoon studies to begin when good Sister looked around and noticed that Allan was not among those in the classroom. You see, several of the 7th and 8th grade boys maintained a less than favorable relationship with Allan. When Sister went outside looking for Allan, she found him on the playground. Not all that bad of a place to be, except that Allan was not playing. Allan was staked out on his back staring up at the sun as it beat down on him like an oven with an open door. Sister untied him, pulled up the stakes, and Allan reclaimed his rightful place in the classroom.

While staking out a fellow student was not a tradition at St. Pat's, initiation for younger boys was. If you were a boy at St. Pat's somewhere between say, the 3rd grade and the 6th grade, you were in for some annual rude treatment. In the fall, we boys had to stand against a wooden fence while the older boys threw not ripened, soft pears - no, that would be too kind. They threw those hard green ones that resembled hand grenades when they hit you.

The pear beatings we took were only surpassed by the ice balls that were fired at us each winter as we were lined up against that same dreaded fence. Normal snowballs would not do. Some of those young Nazis placed snowballs overnight in their family's freezer and used them against us. I wasn't even out of grade school and I was accumulating an inventory of experience dealing with some difficult people.

I thought my experiences with difficult people in the classroom were over when I left St. Pat's. Another experience would raise its ugly head - this time in college. On the first day of my Business Law class in undergraduate school, the instructor walked into the classroom and introduced himself saying, "My name is William Eckert. I tried to make it as a lawyer in Detroit and I couldn't, so I decided to teach." Upon hearing this I thought to myself that he is either one of the more honest and forthright teachers I will have encountered or he is just not quite the brightest star in the galaxy. The answer would come in the final quarter that year.

During the first two quarters I received a letter grade of "B" in this class. It was now time for a Sabol full-court press to earn an "A" during the final quarter of Business Law with William Eckert. Two-thirds of the way through the quarter I am rolling. Two exams: Two "A"s for Sabol. Only the final exam to go.

During class one day Mr. Eckert was making a point that I did not understand. I turned to the student on my left and asked him if he understood the point and he said no. I then asked the fellow on my right - he had been in the Navy and was married so I assumed he was all the wiser. The ex-Navy guy didn't have a clue. I raised my hand and politely said to Mr. Eckert that some of us did not understand the point he was making and would he kindly explain it further. I had barely finished my request when Mr. Eckert said, "Sabol, I want to see you after class."

As class ended I went to Mr. Eckert who said loudly enough for half of the student body to hear: "Sabol, I used to think you were pretty sharp. Now I know better. That was the stupidest question I have ever heard." That was not the kind of comment that bolsters the confidence of someone going on to graduate school. However, I had confidence that Mr. Eckert would treat my work on the final exam objectively and honestly. I was wrong. Although I did well on the final exam, Mr. Eckert gave me an "F". On the postcard that I had left for my final grade to be mailed to me, Mr. Eckert gave me a "D" minus. The university does not give out minuses on final grades. Mr. Eckert did all he could to take my grade as low as possible.

That was my last quarter in undergraduate school. I was on my way to California to begin work on my MBA. Mr. Eckert - the man who couldn't make it as a lawyer in Detroit – couldn't make it as a college teacher either. He was fired six months later.

Communicating and dealing with difficult people is a formidable task. I hope you find - in the chapters that follow - value to your everyday life. As we begin this journey together, allow me to emphasize the admiration I retain to this day for those called to religious life and who teach our youth. The Catholic nuns at St. Pat's were terrific ladies and devoted educators. Mr. Eckert could have learned a great deal about teaching and about treating others with respect from the good sisters at St. Pat's. But I have something special to be thankful for. If it had not been for those blasted triple problems during the sixth grade and my experience with Mr. Eckert in college, I probably wouldn't have written this book.