Sailing the Seas of Cheese: O Captain! My Captain!
The ship has weather’d every rack, the prize we sought is won;
The port is near, the bells I hear, the people all exulting,
While follow eyes the steady keel, the vessel grim and daring
In Green Bay, it seems like it doesn’t take much to have seven degrees–if not one degree of separation–with the Green Bay Packers. After all, there is Lombardi Middle School. How many cities can boast they’ve named a school after a football coach? There’s Lombardi Avenue, Holmgren Way and even a Favre Pass. My next door neighbor was a Hall of Fame guard that played in the Thirties. My summer soccer coach played safety for the Packers in the early Eighties. My summer college job was slinging hash at their training camp. I’ve even baby sat a quarterback’s daughter. The city of Green Bay is relatively small, well at least for NFL standards. It’s probably the only market where half of town knows where the current QB grocery shops.
It’s hard not come in contact with something or someone related to the Packers–big and small alike. This weekend I and hundreds of others students that came before me said goodbye to someone who played one of those lesser but still very integral roles in the Packers booth for over thirty years. His role was important, but few likely knew his name. Jack Marchant was a statistician with the Green Bay Packers for three decades, many of them as the head statistician.
He sat in the booth at Lambeau for almost as long as he taught students at De Pere High School. When he started as a team statistician, it wasn’t a high-tech job–a couple of guys with binoculars, paper, pencils and a typewriter. By the time he retired, it had advanced to computerized record keeping. A lot changed in those three decades high atop the stadium.
I suspect a lot changed during his 37 years in the classroom as well. He started teaching a few years the Korean War had ended, saw students head off to Vietnam, and finished his career around the same time Ronald Reagan did the same. He taught some of my friends’ parents. My class was one of his his last. At that time, if you were headed to college, you likely had Mr. Marchant for the college prep level courses: Advanced Algebra and Trigonometry in the junior year and college credit Pre-calculus in the senior year. Students sat at two person lab-style black benches–plenty of room for your book, papers and nerdy scientific calculator that, looking back, could only do the fraction of what my current cell phone can.
He taught the old fashioned way, chalk on a chalkboard. Victims got to take their turn doing work at the board. Math has never been my forte. In fact, my lowest grade of high school–a nice solid B–came in his Advanced Algebra and Trig class. But I, like so many others, didn’t let that stop me from loving his classes. He made math understandable. He actually made it fun.
He renamed the Pythagorean Theorem the Garbs’ Theorem after one of the boys (and his nickname) in my class. Which of course meant poor Garbs had to spout out the equation on command every time he started to write it out on the board. His humor was quirky. Think Monty Python crossbred with a bunch of math loving engineers.
But he was so much more than a great math teacher. He had one of the biggest hearts that De Pere High School has ever had. His obituary made me tear up. To Jack’s former students: you were a source of great pride and support over the many years- thank you. It wasn’t just a job for him. He loved what he did. He loved his students, and we loved him in return.
His youngest son was in my class. We were never particularly close, though we played on the same soccer team and flung the same hash at Training Camp. His dad was so much older than all of ours as his son was the youngest of eight siblings. Mr. Marchant was a man from a bygone era. He styled his hair with Brylcreem. I swear to God it was waterproof!
It was never a good idea to fall asleep in Mr. Marchant’s class. You were either likely to be awakened with a piece of chalk aimed at your head (especially if you were the teacher’s kid) or suddenly on the receiving end of a practical joke. A guy fell asleep once in Trig. So what did Mr. M. do? He hustled us out of the room, turned off the lights and let the kid snooze. Must’ve been surreal to wake up in an empty classroom. Oh how he would laugh at his own jokes!
And while he taught us to integrate and derive, what I remember most was his kind heart. When a friend was diagnosed with cancer shortly before the beginning of our senior year, he was the one that gave her a forum to explain to her peers why she would be losing her hair and would be missing school from time to time. When we were mourning his passing, she recalled how he teared up when he went into the hall to check on her after she had to abruptly leave the classroom because her nose started to bleed. We weren’t just students. We were his students.
Of course his love of football crept into the classroom. As seniors, we were invited to participate in his weekly football pool. Toss a dime in the old cigar box gave you a chance to pick the winners in the 14 NFL matches that coming weekend. (Yes, there were only 28 teams when I was a senior in school.) Winner got the dimes. Not exactly high stakes gambling, but the challenge was hurled every week: Try to Beat Marchant! Needless to say, I never went home with a handful of dimes and lost a whopping $1.40 that year.
Years later I saw him at the UW Field House. His youngest was graduating from law school the same day I received my medical degree. Funny how the last two times I ever saw him I was wearing a cap and gown. The smile was exactly the same as the day we graduated from high school.
Later in life a stroke slowed him down. From what I’ve heard, he never found that get up and go again. By the time he had passed, he was in hospice. And that physician his family thanked in his obituary who cared for him with compassion at the end of his life? Also a classmate of mine. He sat right next to Mr. Marchant’s son, sharing a table with him in pre-calc. They were friends through high school and likely still are.
Jack Marchant isn’t the first of my teachers to have died, but his passing hurts just a little more than the others. He didn’t teach because it was a job. He taught because it was a calling.
Everyone remembers that scene in Dead Poet’s Society where the students all stand on their chairs and call out, O, Captain! My Captain!” Jack Marchant was one of those types of teachers.
Godspeed, Jack Marchant. You were one of those great teachers that touched the lives of so many. You can never be replaced. Thank you for everything, kind sir.
O Captain! My Captain! Our fearful trip is done.
Kelly is a writer for Pocket Doppler and the co-host of Out of the Pocket at the Packers Talk Radio Network. She has a day job, likes to beekeep and tries not to kill things in her garden. She’s also a fan of the color orange.