Reflecting on a Mentor

I have been on the new job for the past two weeks and have loved the experience thus far. Sharing this experience with now former colleagues has been strange. Strange in the sense that I will not be seeing them every day of the school year this year. I am not quite saying goodbye, but it certainly seems like it.Celebrating this experience with mentors has been really fun as well. However, there is one mentor who is not present to celebrate my success. His name is Loran Koprowski.

Loran Koprowski and I first encountered one another in 1991 when I was a high school student attending Central Visual & Performing Arts High School. “Mr. K” as we affectionately referred to him was hard to miss. He stood about 6’2″ and had black hair. Always dressed impeccably, he had a kind word for the students he encountered. Mr. K was the assistant principal. Most of us never saw the other APs, unless there was trouble. Mr. K was always front and center. He would learn names, figure out our likes/dislikes, and always made sure to ask how our classes were going. As I was going through this awkward stage of adolescence, Mr. K was always a person I consulted with as I went through the troubles of my home life. He was the person who I could tell anything and everything. Privacy and fidelity were always respected.

When I graduated, he made sure to send me a card and a $20 bill. We remained in contact while I was in school and was very supportive of me becoming a teacher. When I returned to St. Louis and started working at Sumner High School, I found out that Mr. K had a heart attack and was going through the process of recovery. During his recovery and return to administration, he was relocated over to Sumner High. We found ourselves together again, but this time in a role that was different than what we had known. We were colleagues.  This didn’t matter. Mr. K was the same positive influence on me. We would talk about life and career goals. We also told jokes and discussed how we could make things better. He was my sounding board and my greatest cheerleader. After 2 years at Sumner, he was transferred over to Clyde C. Miller Career Academy. A few years later, a position opened up for social studies there and he helped facilitate the move for me over there.

Mr. K and I worked together for another three years until he retired in 2010. He and his wife moved to Florida to live out their golden years. We called and emailed from time to time, but our paths would cross once more. In November of 2011, my wife and I adopted out first child, Noah. Noah was born in Tampa. Loran lived baout 1 1/2 hours south of there. Knowing that we were in the state and awaiting clearance to go home, he invited us down to his house for the day. Julie and I had been stuck in a hotel or a hospital for over a week. We didn’t have family with us to share in the experience, but we had an old friend ready to help us out. We drove down to visit the Koprowski’s and our relationship evolved yet again. From that day forward, we referred to Loran and Debbie Koprowski as Noah’s “Florida Grandparents.” We had lunch, we talked about the “old” days and more important…we talked about life. I was grateful for his generosity that day and even more thankful for his love.

koprowski and barnes
Loran, Noah and I (June, 2013) at “Casa Koprowski” in North Port, Florida

Our family returned to Florida one more time in 2013 for a vacation. We visited with him once again and had another lunch. Little did I know that would be the last time I would see Loran Koprowski. Loran died in August of 2015 of a heart attack while he was out boating with his wife. When I talked to Debbie, I was absolutely devastated. Loran was a father figure to me and a man I truly respected. He listened to me in adolescence and as a colleague. He allowed me to make mistakes and learn from those mistakes. He allowed me take risks as a teacher and challenge the status quo. He encouraged me to continue improving my craft when so many others did not. He made me relaxed with a great sense of humor. Most of all, he taught me that family is everything. Loran was a family man and incredibly loyal to them. I have come to know his wife very well. I have watched his daughter and sons grow up over the course of almost 25 years that I knew him.

Every teacher needs a mentor like that. We need people in our life who can make a connection with us and meet us where we are. Loran Koprowski has a very special place in my heart and it is taking everything in me to get through this post without losing my emotions (I am tearing up thinking about him now). Believe me, there are so many stories I could tell (some still have me cracking up years later). I feel blessed to have made many connections with students, teachers and administrators during my time in SLPS. I hope to be half the person Loran Koprowski was, because in many ways he saved me from myself. He showed me how to do the right things as a leader, as a man, and as a friend. That level of mentoring is vitally important.

Be that mentor. Be that life changing agent for someone. Get to know your people on an intimate level and be sincere. I hope that our paths may cross some day and you can see a little piece of Loran Koprowski when we meet. Thank you, Mr. K!

 

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