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Lucky Me

By Mike Bonifer 4 years ago
Home  /  Education  /  Lucky Me
People get lucky in different ways. Lucky in games of chance. Lucky in love. Inheritances. Genetics. Business. I’ve always had luck in having outstanding teachers. People whose enthusiasm for learning is contagious. It’s been a celebration of education, and my good fortune is that I’ve been invited to the party.
My teachers have always connected what they teach to the world waiting outside the classroom. They don’t take themselves so seriously as to think they have all the answers, and they’ve been wise and perceptive enough to know what the questions are. And isn’t that what a person really needs to know? What questions are worth answering?

Naturally enough, my parents were my first teachers. It’s impossible to describe all the ways they educated my brothers, sisters and me. It’s an endless list, endless because it’s still revealing itself every day.

My mother, Fern Bonifer, who grew up on a dairy farm, taught us how to milk a cow. By hand. Two different ways. There was The Squeeze technique. And then when your hand begins cramping up from squeezing, you can move to The Strip technique. It has been awhile since I’ve had to milk a cow. By hand. Two different ways. And it’s been awhile since I curled myself up into a ball and rolled down a grassy hill–another thing my mother taught us how to do.

Everything else my mother taught us does still come into play nearly every day. Her love of music. Her patience. Her curiosity. Her generosity. Her effortless attention to detail when she’s sewing, or baking or quilting, or writing in her elegant handwriting, or when she’s learning anything new, which she is always doing. See, she taught us to be lifelong learners. She taught us her fearlessness. Her friendliness. Her love of language, and of games. Her strength and her grace in the face of adversity. Her sense of humor, which I’d describe as letting yourself be tickled by life. All of it. Every day. Those of you lucky enough to know Fern Bonifer know what I’m talking about. You’ve been tickled too.


Miss Linda Rohleder, my sixth grade teacher, wanted great things for us.  She was always getting us involved in activities that had to do with what was happening in the world, that tied the textbook to the times in which we were living: Astronauts, Vietnam, the Optimist Club Speech Contest, the County Spelling Bee, The Bookmobile, Food, Fashion, Charles Dickens, Theater, College, and a hundred other ideas about the world that cracked open doors we didn’t even know where there. She could make her sister’s concrete block dorm room in Terre Haute, Indiana, sound like a suite at the Ritz Carlton. She revered learning. From her, I learned how to learn. And that any idea in a textbook is only as good as our ability to see it enacted in the world.

Bill Bassler was my high school Latin teacher for three years. It’s hard to believe anyone could find three years worth of learning in Latin. Mr. Bassler did. He showed us how there’s life in everything if you know where to look, even in a supposedly dead thing like the language of ancient Rome. When he was guiding us through The Aeneid or Julius Caesar, Winnie the Pooh in Latin, or a Roman kid our age calling out to his buddy, (“Io, Publius, quid agis?”“Yo, Publius, what’s going on?!”), you were there, living it right along with him. Last weekend I spoke to Mr. Bassler for the first time in over 40 years. At age 90, he speaks more slowly but is as articulate and formal as ever, like Olivier doing Mr. Rogers. He says  he’s he’s still teaching–4th to 8th grade Amish children, in four different two-room schoolhouses, two of which don’t have indoor plumbing or electricity. He says they arrive at school in their pony carts, and are very attentive and hard working. (This is the best study we have for happens when there’s no phones, TVs, videogames or internets–people learn to pay attention.)

My lucky streak continues to this day. I still have teachers who give gifts I’ll be a lifetime paying forward. People who take great joy in sharing what they know. I’d rather have the luck that comes with having good teachers than win a hundred lotteries.

  Education, Identity, Quotes
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 Mike Bonifer

  (57 articles)

Mike Bonifer is the founder and Chief Storyteller for bigSTORY, a network of experts in diverse fields who specialize in effective communication and draw on breakthrough research that accounts for how stories affect business performance. We call our process Agile Storytelling. We apply it to help clients improve their communication processes, make more meaningful connections with audiences, drive customer advocacy and engage employees. Bonifer has been focused on new storytelling platforms and practices for his entire life, from the theme park his family built on the farm where he grew up in Indiana, through a long association with the Walt Disney Company, to bigSTORY’s contemporary work with Skype, Wipro, Manulife, United Airlines, and a host of mid-sized companies, and universities such as USC, Notre Dame and NYU. He has written five books on the subject of storytelling, most recently GameChangers—Improvisation for Business in the Networked World, and CTRL Shift—50 Games for 50 ****ing Days Like Today. In addition to its consulting work, bigSTORY develops and produces original stories. We are currently developing Death of Cassini, an opera about the last days of NASA’s Cassini-Huygens mission to Saturn, and Crypto Kid, a television series about Tinashe Nyatanga, a Zimbabwean hip-hop music editor living in Los Angeles who advises young music and entertainment stars on their cryptocurrency investments. The basis of all our work is a belief that our most optimistic futures are realized when we build stories together. When your story and my story become our story.