SAGEBRUSH

We’re experiencing another one of those El Niño mild winters. 

Forgive me for saying “When I was a kid…” But when I was a kid, every winter was mild, at least according to the Great White Father. In fact, when I was a kid, EVERY winter was so stinking mild that we rarely – if ever – enjoyed that dream-come-true known as a Snow Day. You see, our school superintendent at the time thought blizzards, snow drifts and wind chill factors all made for a pleasant winter day.

Those of you who attended Herscher schools from 1949 to 1975 can relate to this. I speak, of course, of the man who scoffed at what others might misconstrue as winter’s treachery. 

The man, who after attending a Chicago Bears football game played in sub-zero temperatures, sheepishly confessed that even he had to put on ear muffs…but not until the fourth quarter.

The man who had no mercy on school kids snuggled beneath piles of blankets and quilts while icy cold winds relentlessly pounded away at their bedroom windows. In his book, a wind chill factor of, say, minus 30 degrees was merely a summer breeze.

I speak, of course, of the Great White Father.

For those of you unfamiliar with local history, The Great White Father was none other than the late Kenneth G. Seebach, Unit 2’s superintendent who ruled his school district with both an iron fist and a gentle hand through its first 26 years. He is remembered in this column every January.

“The Great White Father” (because of his snow white hair) was one of several behind-the-back monikers he garnered during his long tenure as a school superintendent.

Mr. Seebach had a reputation for being shrewd with the dollar. But he was even more scotch when it came to spending one of those five designated snow days on the school calendar.

The Great White Father was always the last area superintendent to call school – and more often the only one who didn’t call school – on those days when winter winds howled and roads were obstructed with snow drifts which resembled frozen tidal waves.

I can still hear that familiar drone of now departed WKAN radio announcer Orren Allain…

We have some school closings to announce. All Clifton Central schools will be closed today. St. Anne schools are closed. Momence schools are closed. Stay tuned to WKAN for updates.

Central and St. Anne always won the prize. While those lucky dogs rolled over, we poor Herscher kids would begin crawling out of our warm beds. Our feet would leave footprints on the frosted bedroom floor.

The lost souls in hell were putting on wool sweaters. But in Herscher, we were getting up for school.

We have more school closings to announce. Manteno schools are closed. Kankakee schools and all Bradley-Bourbonnais schools are closed. St. Patrick’s and St. Paul’s schools are closed.

Curses! Every Kankakee city school is closed. And The Great White Father still won’t give in!

By now, those lost souls in hell can see their breath. But in Herscher, school is still on.

It’s 7:15 am and before taking the risk of brushing teeth and combing hair for no apparent reason, we bow to the radio atop the refrigerator and plead with Orren Allain to tell us what we want to hear.

School closings keep coming in. Reddick schools are closed. Dwight schools are closed. Gardner, Wilmington, Peotone, Beecher and Grant Park schools are all closed. Hold on, another call is just coming in.

Could this be true? He’s read off every other school in the area…this next one has to be Herscher!

Watseka schools are closed.

The Great White Father continues to hold out.

Looking down the road, I can barely make out the outline of a school bus blasting through drifts like a Montana snow plow. At this point, those lost souls in hell are jumping into their Carhartts and insulated boots.

Meanwhile, in Herscher Unit 2, we’re on our way to school.

Once in school, we’d peer through frosted windows, hoping against hope that The Great White Father would finally relent and send us home early.

“He’ll wait until after lunch so he doesn’t have to refund our lunch money,” cracked one kid.

“Naw, he’s gonna keep us here until 2:12. Then it’s an official school day and we’ll get more money from the state,” theorized another.

“Yer talkin’ about The Great White Father. We’re here ‘til 3:30,” said our future valedictorian. Of course, the smartest kid in the class was right.

Shortly before his death in 1989, when I was fairly confident that Mr. Seebach would grant pardon for my fourth grade transgressions, I confessed to him that we had called him The Great White Father.

“And I’m sure you called me a lot worse things, too,” he astutely replied.

I thought back to what I muttered beneath my frozen breath on a winter morning in 1967 when Herscher had to be the only school open in the entire Midwest.

Once again, The Great White Father was absolutely right.