Girl on Fire: The best advice is to enjoy life

[As seen in Creston News Advertiser, July 31, 2014]

Monday night I spent three training hours in the company of several other Creston firefighters practicing hooking up to a fire hydrant and laying hose in the event of a structure fire. After training we met at the station and washed fire trucks, then I left for home. It was a normal Monday training night.

Tuesday morning, I went into work after hearing about a drowning at Twelve Mile Lake. We went on with our morning, typing up news and asking questions about the event, until a coworker asked if I knew Rich Gander.

I said yes, immediately knowing why I was being asked.

Before I graduated from Centerville High School, I spent several years taking math classes under the instruction of Mr. Gander.

I had Mr. Gander for subjects such as trigonometry and college math. Mr. Gander had his own methods of teaching. Some, I’ve heard, were not fans, while others were. I was a fan. He taught you what you needed to know, nothing more or less, and let you loose to learn by doing the problems on your own.

Though, on days when he didn’t feel like teaching and we as students didn’t feel like learning, he would connect his computer to the projector and let us watch “math videos.” These videos generally consisted of animated films such as “Finding Nemo,” “The Incredibles” and “Wallace and Gromit.”

The summer before the 2013-2014 Creston school year started, I was tasked with taking profile pictures of new Creston instructors. Enter Mr. Gander. We talked a little, discussed my move to Creston to work at the newspaper, and his move as a math teacher at Creston High School. He said he found a house on North Spruce Street, and hadn’t lived here long enough at the time to really get to know the town.

Despite my somewhat close interactions with Mr. Gander, I didn’t know him very well. I followed him on Facebook, flipping through the athletic photos he took while he lived in Creston.

It was strange, watching the events unfold from the safety of the newsroom in Creston, knowing exactly what was going on and who was involved. It felt as if I was in a bubble of some kind, unable to do anything, but hoping so hard that I could help in some way.

My thoughts go to Mr. Gander’s family. I can only imagine the feelings they are going through, but I want to say how sorry I am. Everyone in the world has gone through some kind of loss, and even though I didn’t know Mr. Gander very well, I still want to acknowledge him.

He was someone who enjoyed life, and if I learned anything from him outside of how to use letters in a number equation, it was just that.

Impact people in the most positive way possible, as a teacher in a school or one in daily life.

Be the best you can be and take in the little life experiences that make you happy.

And, the best advice of all, enjoy life.

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