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89-year-old teacher still motivating

Many people are life-long learners, but at 89 years old Lone Star College-Tomball adjunct professor Wayne Hemingway is a life-long teacher. 

For 66 years Hemingway has been a teacher at many different levels and in many different places - Athens Bible School in Alabama; Crowley's Ridge Academy in Arkansas (where he was also director); Madison Academy in Alabama (where he also served as founding president); 20 years with the New Jersey Public School System from which he officially retired in 1980; 9 years with Northland Christian School in Houston (where he served as teacher and administrator), retiring once again. This year he begins his 20th year with the Lone Star College System, as he begins his 90th year of life.

Hemingway began teaching GED courses for what was then called the North Harris Community College District in 1989 and after several years told his wife (of 66 years, Annile) he was going to a job fair to see about a career change.

"She told me ‘You're 80 years old and you want another career change? Most people have been retired for decades by this time!'" says Hemingway. "But I knew it was a good opportunity to move within the college district and I took a job teaching math at LSC-Tomball and I've been teaching two or three classes a term ever since."

And he doesn't take summers off, either.

LSC-Tomball summer session student Diana Hildebrand said she didn't find it unusual that she had a "mature" teacher, especially when she saw his passion for teaching.

"As someone whose own father still works long after he has to, I wasn't surprised to see Mr. Hemingway teaching," says Hildebrand. But what did catch her attention was how encouraging, caring and gifted Hemingway was.

"I had not taken classes in a very long time, so this was a re-entry into education for me," she says. "He wants all of his students to succeed and he is always willing to extend an extra a hand for extra help. Although he is candid about teachers' pensions not going as far as they need to, it's not about money for him. I think teaching helps him stay connected to the energy of the youth."

And, although his youthful days are somewhat behind him, his former student David Mills says his connection with Hemingway remains - 60 years after he first had him as a teacher at Madison in Alabama.

"I wasn't an exemplary student. In fact, I failed Mr. Hemingway's ninth grade algebra class," remembers Mills. "But he cared for me and his other students, not only while we were in his classroom, but outside of the classroom as well. He was straightforward with me and my fellow classmates, putting up with little nonsense, yet urging us to enjoy ourselves and appreciate learning. During my four years at Madison, he was the most highly esteemed and loved member of the faculty."

Mills and his wife (whom Hemingway also taught) - along with their former classmates - began holding an annual reunion with Hemingway and a few other teachers in 1988 in the various states where everyone had settled. And to this day, Hemingway (who remains the only surviving teacher) meets with his former students and their spouses each year.

"It's a bond that we will have for the rest of our lives," says Hemingway. "We grew very close as teachers and students and we are proud to still be in each others' lives."

So, what changes has Hemingway observed in education over the years?

"Well, definitely the salary," he jokes, noting that his first teaching job paid $1,350 for an eight-month school year. "But not by that much. Actually, in all seriousness, I think that the dedication of students wanting to learn as much as possible has waned and the desire to learn doesn't seem to be as strong for a great number of students as it was back when I first started teaching. And, yet the opportunities available to them are limitless."

So why does he stay in the game?

"Because my job is not only to teach them, but to motivate them," says Hemingway, who teaches developmental math to students who have graduated high school, but need additional instruction before taking college courses for credit. "And I believe that I do that. However they may come into my classroom, they leave with a better understanding."

They may do so due to his instruction, but former student Mills thinks it's also due to his example.

"Mr. Hemingway is among the most authentic of role models. What he says and what he does go hand in hand. He was, and remains, an exemplary model for me and many, many others who were his students. Those of us who were blessed by having Mr. Hemingway as a teacher and friend are better people because of him. He set a high mark for me, both in his professional life and in his personal life. How fortunate for the community college and his students that he is still teaching."

Lone Star College-Tomball is located at 30555 Tomball Parkway in Tomball.

The Lone Star College System consists of five colleges, including Cy-Fair, Kingwood, Montgomery, North Harris, and Tomball, six centers and Lone Star College-University Center. To learn more, visit http://www.lonestar.edu/.