I remember moving from elementary to junior high school. Even though seventh grade was still in the same building (you could walk from kindergarten to the high school without ever stepping outside), it was in a different location and something brand new. (Actual lockers!) For the first two days I showed up a few minutes late to my first class until I figured out the time difference. If my memories are still coherent enough I think the first class was math…with Mr. Youel.
Let me discuss this man who taught me junior high and high school math because I think he’s very special.
Since my move from Oskaloosa to a campground near Ft. Madison, I’ve been feeling a little lost because I have no permanent home in which to settle. But I don’t want to get off on a tangent about that. My point is that since I’m near Ft. Madison, I decided to look up my former teacher and visit him.
I want to say right off that even though math was my worst subject, Mr. Youel was my favorite teacher. This man talked to the students for most of the class about sports and politics before delving into that day’s assignment. He gave us homework every day, even right before holidays and the second to the last day of the school year. He had a grading system that was easy to understand and he showed respect to the students who earned it. But I barely knew who he was and from where he came.
He was born in 1922 in Vinton, Iowa, schooled in Ft. Madison and went to Iowa University, the Navy, and taught school in Ft. Madison and Danville, Iowa.
But what he really was, was football. His mother lost a brother to a broken neck while he played football so when her son started, she was obviously concerned. He said he thinks she started getting sick every Wednesday (before the Friday night games in high school). He played high school football and played for the Hawkeyes. He knew Nile Kinnick (for whom the UI football stadium is named) and Jim Zabel (who broadcasted Hawk games for decades). He played football and boxed in the Navy.
What I think is really cool is that Jim Youel also went on to play professional football for the Washington Redskins for three seasons (’46, ’47, 48′) and one season with the defunct Boston Yanks (’48). Can you imagine it? My math teacher in school, in the little town of Danville, used to play for the Redskins.
Besides Kinnick and Zabel he associated with other recognizable names: Paul Brown (coach of the Cleveland Browns) and Bear Bryant. He coached football at Ft. Madison and Danville. Helped by his mechanical engineering degree at university, he moved into teaching math.
At Danville, he coached football and junior high track. My best memory of track practice was one day we were told to walk a quarter mile south to the stop sign, then run to the Geode road (about two miles away) and back. Now, back then I was not athletic. I was not a fast runner and didn’t win any of my races. But, I was enduring and persevering. Nearing the Geode road I noticed a pack of runners just turning back for the return two miles. Part of my mind wondered about them because I thought I had been ahead of them. Anyway, I caught up with them, passed them and led the pack for awhile (while they all voiced the Rocky theme), before moving on while they walked for awhile.
I learned later that the pack had climbed into a car and rode to the Geode road to be let off to run back. Mr. Youel found out about this, nicknamed them the Carpoolers, and for the next two weeks assigned extra workouts after the main practice ended.
As I mentioned, I recently looked up and visited Mr. Youel. He’s 91 and still looking good. After our visit I concluded he didn’t completely remember me, although my name sounded familiar to him. I had visited him many years ago so maybe he was recalling that last visit. He doesn’t have Alzheimer’s but at 91, some memories are bound to fade. He did remember many stories from his football days, the coaches and players he admired and those he…didn’t. He remembered some teachers from Danville as well as a few students from my class.
While trying to locate his address via the Internet, I ran across and article from five years ago that said that the Fort Madison football stadium was renamed Jim Youel Field to honor his service to the school. He didn’t think it was that big of a deal. During my visit he amused me because he had enough humility not to get too caught up in the admiration from others, but had enough self worth to say he was a better football player than some (and a better coach than a lot).
There are some people who go through life accomplishing a lot and a few handfuls of people realize it. They may not be famous movie stars or Presidents or millionaires but they have lived a full life and have rubbed elbows with some VIPs as well as we regular folks.
Jim Youel has been one of those people. He’s not just one of the good ones. He’s one of the better ones. He has my respect, my admiration, and I’m awed by his life. I wish I could sit with him for hours and hear his stories. I know this blog doesn’t do him half the recognition he needs, but I wanted to share him as much as I could.
For years after high school I looked for a football card from his time with the pros. No dealer even recognized his name. Finally, at my last high school reunion one of my classmates said he had found a picture or a card. I begged him to send it to me. It’s up on my Facebook page in the photos section and is accompanying picture to this week’s post.
Bar none, Mr. Youel is my favorite teacher and a cool guy.