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A Tribute to Herc Paloumpis by a Former Student

by Dave Uphoff - March 011, 2010

Do our teachers and administrators realize what influence they may have on a student's life? This thought entered my mind when I received a letter last week from a former Woodland student who wanted to contact Minonk native Herc Paloumpis who was the Principal at Woodland High School over 25 years ago.

The letter by Norma Jeane Smith really moved me as I am sure it did Mr. Paloumpis when I forwarded her message to him. Below is the letter I received from Norma Jeane.

I am a former student of Woodland High School. Herc Paloumpis was the Principal at that time. I wondered if there is anyway to contact him to thank him for the many wonderful lessons of life he has passed on to me, that to date, I still remember and utilize...If there were anyway to thank him from such a distance. I thought maybe I could reach him by his local newspaper. I would love to let him know that not only did he reach out and save me in SO many ways as a wayward teen, but to let him know that I am a mother, grandmother, nurse, wife...have fostered 34 teens that were in much the same situation I had been in...just to let him know what a difference he made...the impact he had on me in my life. If at all possible, please let him know for me...Thank you.
Norma Jeane (Tibbs) Smith

Herc Paloumpis is a personal friend of mine and I asked him if I could publish the letter. He was reluctant at first saying he didn't want people to think that he was blowing his horn. I assured Herc that it was a human interest story worth telling and not to worry about the ego thing.

Then I received another letter from Norma Jeane Smith which really bowled me over. Below is its contents.

Mr. Paloumpis was one of the first positive male role models that I remember. I met him when I was enrolled at Woodland my freshman year. He, of course, was the Principal there. I had moved to Long Point from Washington D.C. to live with family. I was not exactly a great fit into such a small community/rural school district coming from such a large metropolis. I was headed for trouble, but each time I can remember being called into his office, he would gently, and yet sternly, speak to me and tell me what I did wrong, how I should fix it, and always ended with words of encouragement ..."Now go out there; stop looking for trouble; and DO the RIGHT thing! Honestly, child!" with the little "smirk of Herc," as I called it. I entered his office on many occasions crying, but always left feeling loved and confident that I could do anything. I just always wanted him to know that it was his kind words and diligence that saved my life.

Once, I had given up on life all together, and tried to commit suicide by overdosing on sleeping pills. He, and Mr. Murphy, not only literally saved my life that day at school, but have always been in my thoughts every day since. I am grateful to them both. From then on, I have only striven to do the best at all I set out to do in this life. I live my life striving to do the greater good.

I have several wonderful children, some of which are adopted, became a social worker, have fostered 34 teenagers in my home, and now that my children are grown, I went back to school to fulfill my life long dream and finally became a nurse. I work with the elderly and also with patients in hospice.

I am SO happy to have finally made a connection, after all these years of looking, with Mr. Paloumpis, and to have the opportunity to thank him let him know that he STILL impacts his students...this one at such a positive way.

Norma Jeane (Tibbs) Smith

How many people can say that their actions saved someone's life.? I can't think of a more powerful emotion to experience.

Finally, I received a letter from Patrick Murphy who worked with Mr. Paloumpis and who was also praised in Norma Jeane's letter. Its contents are below:

I was really fortunate to begin my teaching career with Mr. Paloumpis. He was firm, fair, had a great sense of humor, and made his expectations of faculty and students very clear. Mr. Paloumpis was a strong supporter and a great champion of new teachers, and he clearly loved working with the kids.

I'll never forget my interview. Fresh out of college, I was prepared to answer questions about educational philosophy, grading procedures, and other academic concerns. The department head, an experience teacher, stood in the doorway to Herc's office. "What do you do if a kid takes a swing at you," he asked. I was floored. I looked at Mr. Paloumpis, who was gazing serenely at me. "Duck?" I replied.

I got the job teaching biology at Woodland High School in the summer of 1981. Mr. Paloumpis gave me the opportunity not only to teach, but to coach. It was a terrific place to work, with a friendly and business-like atmosphere. I never had a kid take a swing at me - in large part due to the respectful atmosphere generated by Mr. Paloumpis and superintendent Jim Langan. Herc was one of the best principals I've had the pleasure to work with.

Patrick Murphy

This story emphasizes how important it is for teachers and administrators to be fair-minded and have compassion for their students. Most high school students are adolescents going through a very emotional time in their life. They can become easily upset and emotionally distraught. As this story proves, a life can be saved or squandered based on the actions of others. Sometimes a teacher or administrator may be the only source of counseling for a distraught student. Unfortunately, I have seen cases where students have been unfairly treated or dismissed. Having a competent and compassionate counselor in our schools is very important. The life of a student can be adversely or positively affected by the actions of a counselor.

In Norma Jeane Smith's case, she was fortunate in having competent counselors in the name of Herc Paloumpis and Patrick Murphy. I cannot think of a finer tribute to receive than to know you have had a positive affect on someone's life. To know you may have saved someone's life is something you will never forget.

Herc Paloumpis

Norma Jeane Smith