Friday, December 12, 2003

Helper conquers losses with limitless energy

Education Angels

By Anna Guido
Enquirer contributor

[IMAGE] Roger Blackburn, 73, is a retired pharmacist. He is now an administrative assistant for the principal at Glen Este High School. He also performs many other functions including helping out with the wrestling team, as he watches Jim Noble, 13, and Mark Gliszczynski, 13, wrestle.
UNION TOWNSHIP - At 73, Roger Blackburn's motto is "Don't Put Things Off."

The events that led the retired pharmacist to adopt that attitude came just as life should have gotten easier. But rather than look back in sadness, Blackburn reclaimed his energetic lifestyle.

"You get to the point where you say, 'Why me?' But what makes me so special that it should happen to somebody else and not me?" Blackburn said.

He and his late wife, Luella, also a pharmacist, retired within months of each other in 1990 from York Drug Store in Owensville. The couple planned to travel the world. But Luella suffered a stroke three months after she stopped working and died a year later in May 1992.

A month before losing his wife, Blackburn lost his mother. In 1996, his father died shortly after moving in with Blackburn. Then in 1998, Blackburn's oldest son, Stephen, 45, died from injuries suffered after a fall at home.

Blackburn didn't get to see the world with his wife. But the Union Township man is now seeing the world in a different light, working and volunteering alongside sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders at Glen Este Middle School in the West Clermont Local School District.

"These kids are at an age where you can be influential," Blackburn said. "I think it's great to be able to work with them."

Blackburn, an administrative assistant at Glen Este Middle School, goes beyond the call of duty, according to his boss.

"He does everything," said Principal Kevin Thacker. "He runs the in-school suspension program, assists with after-school football and wrestling, does paperwork for the coaches, tutors kids to keep them eligible. ... You name it, he does it."

One of Blackburn's most recognized jobs is that of page-turner for the pianist at the school's annual Christmas concert.

In his 12 years at the school, he hasn't missed a day of work. He's the first to arrive each morning - in at 5:45 to make coffee - and one of the last to leave - after doing calisthenics, including 100 pushups each night, with the wrestling team. (The season runs from November to February.)

In the summer, he works for one month - off the payroll - helping Thacker prepare for the coming school year.

"He just gives a lot, cares a lot; and he's made a difference in the community," Thacker said.

Known to many as "Mr. B," Blackburn fits in comfortably with his young proteges.

At a recent lunch, surrounded by some of the seventh-grade wrestlers he helps coach, "Mr. B" compliments were flying.

"When we do push-ups, crunches and squats, he's doing 'em, too," said Taylor Krimmer, 13. "And he does 'em pretty good!"

These fun-loving exchanges and fraternal relationships are the rewards that motivate Blackburn to give his time to Glen Este Middle School.

"I just like to see them (students) succeed," he said. "In this day and age, there are just too many who are passed on, and on, and on."

Education Angels recognizes unsung individuals outside the classroom who are making a positive impact in the lives of Tristate students.

Do you know of someone who deserves recognition? If so, e-mail or write Bill Cieslewicz, Education Editor, Cincinnati Enquirer, 312 Elm St., Cincinnati 45202; fax: (513) 768-8340. Please include name, home and work phone numbers, name of individual(s) being nominated and school or district.


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