David Plank, Interviewed by Jacob Barry, November 16, 2010
Location of Interview: Palatine Bridge, New York
David Plank was born in 1938 in St. Johnsville, New York. He attended the University of Rochester and taught for four years before becoming an Episcopal priest. In this story, he talks about the values he learned in school.
JB: Could you tell me a little bit about going to school in St. Johnsville?
DP: Well you know the old stories about having to walk through snowstorms and all that. I did. I had to walk a mile to school. It was an old building. My mother went there, I went there. The floors, when they were cleaned they had oil on them. If there was a fire, there were two stories so it would have been a disaster. Every year the dental hygienist came and cleaned everybody’s teeth free and did a check, which was a very great service. The problem was if you didn’t have a dentist or couldn’t afford a dentist there was nothing to do about the cavities that were found. And we had vaccinations.
So in 1950 they built a new elementary school and that’s where my mother went to be a secretary. My sister was in first grade when that happened. It was a small high school. And the course offering was limited. But somehow I think we got, I got, a good education. I went to the University of Rochester and was outclassed academically by kids from the city and from the New York suburbs who had all kinds of educational advantages. But I nevertheless think I had a good educational experience. It was broad, and I think we learned to get along with each other and to accept each other. Which I think is a great lesson.
JB: How do you think they taught you that? As far as how to get along with each other.
DP: Well my sixth grade teacher really worked at that. He came…it was his first year of teaching. He’d been to college on the GI bill. And for some reason that was one of the things that he wanted to instill in us. Each person was as good as someone…as the other person. And he had bulletin boards up that would emphasize that. I was pretty smart but he never treated me any differently than any other kid. And we had two girls who were twins come to our class after the year had started and they were in foster care and their dresses were made out of flour bags and he made it so that nobody looked down on them.
And he told me a few years ago before he died, he said that “when they came to my class I really did not know what to do” and he said, and I’m only saying this because he told me, he said that I had somehow helped him to be able to incorporate them into the class. And I think my mother instilled that in me because I always tried to reach out to the ones who were different or poor. And I think because it was so small everybody knew everybody and you sort of just accepted them for who they were.