The Humbug Gentleman Scholar

older gentleman with hat, jacket and tie peering from behind partition
Robert Bergman '93

Remember in The Wizard of Oz when Toto revealed the man behind the curtain? Oz the Great and Powerful was just an old carney named Professor Marvel who had pulled the wool over everyone’s eyes. He wasn’t a wizard at all, and he had no power to fulfill wishes; except he does, right? He shows that the Lion has courage, the Tin Man has heart, the Scarecrow has intelligence, and Dorothy understands the love of home—and each one has this revelation about themselves while on their way to destroy the Wicked Witch of the West. Although a “humbug,” the Wizard reveals the adventurers’ true natures.

Sometimes I feel that way as a teacher.

I feel like I never know enough behind the curtain, until the “real” lessons reveal themselves.

In the robotics program, there is one student who quietly leads the rest. Over the past year, he reluctantly wore the mantle of the program when no one else stepped forward. He worked tirelessly, coming out of his comfort zone to initiate corporate support and maintain relationships with current benefactors. His initiative showed the way for a new generation of robotics enthusiasts, all because he decided that someone needed to lead and he would be that person.

This example is not unique in our community.

Many times people rise to leadership positions—and not because they are ambitious—but because their leadership is needed.

My first department chair at De Smet Jesuit, Carl Evola was one such leader. If I had to describe Mr. Evola as an educator, I’d call him a “Gentleman Scholar,” and we have had quite a few of these men in the building: Reverend Frank Olmstead, Dick Donahue, Dr. Pat Berger, Mike Kelemen, Fr. Costello, and Ken Luecke to name a few. Carl’s quiet demeanor brought my department together for years in a directed state of action. We explored new ways of educating our young men with our then new program of one-to-one computers and the young men’s changing tastes in literature. Because of his guidance, the department increased our understanding of story-telling, language, and writing.

When I coached shot put and discus, I had to pick a captain every year for my portion of the track and field team. I picked the young man I could trust the most to be the leader of my group in my stead. Jonathan Randolph ’09, Roderick Williams ’11, Mike Ruesler ’11, and Marcus Blue ’07 (a highlighted example) all helped me guide the younger athletes through the rigorous season that is track. I relied on their help to organize my daily workouts, and they rose to the occasion to motivate the younger athletes by leading drills and exercises. I knew that when family emergencies would arise, and they always did in the spring season, that I could rely on these motivated young men to step in and step up to help me keep my athletes on track. I missed two weeks over the course of a few seasons because of the birth of my daughter and son and I knew that my captains could take over for me and let me become a dad. Their leadership would not have come into being if they hadn’t become athletes and if I hadn’t trusted them.

Although a complete phony as a wizard, Professor Marvel’s real magic was giving the four heroes the initial journey so they could develop their own characteristics and unique leadership abilities. When the “humbug,” Marvel takes off in his balloon, he leaves the Scarecrow in charge to rule OZ. The bumbling, silly, immature Scarecrow had grown into a leadership role because a young girl emancipated him, a false wizard gave him a test of friendship, and now he has the responsibility to lead the free Land of OZ.

We all find leaders where we least expect it.

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