Robert Hillmer Award 2009: Don Lawrence

Don Lawrence Hillmer 2009

Past President Al Samsa and Don Lawrence (right)

Don’s Speech
Thank you Herb for your kind words and for taking the time from your busy schedule, to come and speak on my behalf. Honoured guests, OBEA executive, and OBEA members. If you look at the brochure on your table, you will notice that the Hillmer award has been granted every year since 1962 to a Business Studies teacher. Each year when it is awarded I think about the Hillmer family, and the wonderful legacy they left in memory of their son. It is an honour and privilege to receive the Hillmer Award, especially when it is coming from my Business Studies colleagues, and considering the past winners of this award. Many of the past winners were my mentors and role models. They were the dedicated innovators and risk takers of Business Studies. In winning this award I owe a lot to my colleagues and mentors. I am humbled to be in the company of the former award winners, many of whom are here today.

Receiving this award has given me the opportunity to reflect upon my career as an educator, and has made me realize that I am not only accepting this award on behalf of myself, but also, on behalf of everyone who has influenced and helped me.

The first person I would like to thank is my mother, who is here today. She will be 94 this August. She raised 7 children, 5 girls and 2 boys (you want to try doing that with one washroom), she has 13 grandchildren, and 5 great-grandchildren. As a young boy, I struggled with spelling. She would sit me down while she ironed and would dictate words for me to spell. My spelling improved, and so did my ironing. Education begins in the home where the parents cultivate a culture of reading, and enthusiasm for learning and questioning. I want to thank my sisters, Darlene, Gloria, Pat, Theresa and Francine and my brother-in-law Robbie for making sure my mother could be here today, and for their support.

My daughter Kelly when I told her I won the Hillmer award said, “Dad I feel like it is my award too, when I think of all the times you worked on OBEA, and school stuff, and we helped you fill conference bags, design conference brochures, and all the phone calls from Linda Brown.” And you know, she is right. I have to thank my family for supporting me with my OBEA involvement and a demanding teaching career. My wife Beth, a librarian, (which means you never win at crosswords, scrabble or trivial pursuit). My daughter Alicia, who just completed her first year at the University of Guelph, doing a double major in History and English, loves riding horses and show jumping, is a wonderful artist, and plays the violin with her Dad. My daughter Kelly who will be attending this September, Wilfrid Laurier University in the honours business program, is a rugby player, is an awesome photographer, and was a feature dancer in the musical 42nd. Street at Centre In The Square in Kitchener. I am a very proud of my family.

How did I end up as a business teacher? I began to realize I would become a teacher after my summer jobs as a community park supervisor, and working at a camp teaching mentally handicapped children to swim, but I actually thought I would become a phys-ed teacher.

During the summer after high school, I received a letter from Mount Allison University inviting me to football camp. My father said, “there is no way you are going out there, you will get killed”. At six feet tall, and only 140 pounds you can understand his reasoning. My mother on the other hand said, “you have worked hard all summer, why don’t you treat it like a vacation, the university is paying for your flight and expenses, so go for it”. After a week of football camp with every muscle and bone in my body hurting, even my earlobes, I realized, this was no vacation!

One day after a practice, the coach came to me and said, “Lawrence what are you doing, you haven’t applied to the university”. “Well” I said, “I was waiting to see if I made the football team”. “You can’t do that”, he roared. The next day I knew I made the team, when the coach came to me with all the forms to apply to the university. He said, “what degree do you want to pursue?” I said, “phys-ed”. “We don’t have a phys-ed degree at Mount Allison”, he shouted. “Well”, I said, “how about business? “Yes”, he said, “we have business”. There began my business career.

After graduating, I went to Halifax and worked as a stockbroker and as a business loans officer for the Federal Business Development Bank. After a few years of that, I got home-sick for my family, and Ontario, and returned and attended Althouse College to become a business teacher. I was offered a job at Listowel District Secondary School and have been there ever since.

I was very fortunate and proud to become the Business Dept. head at LDSS, and the Business Head of on-line learning. In our glory days my business colleagues and I took the dept., from 24 sections to 46 sections, the largest dept. in the school.

I’ve attended OBEA Conferences since 1976. At one conference Doug Metler made an announcement “would the District Councilor for Perth County please meet me at the side door.” I went over to Doug and said, “I am the only teacher here from Perth County”. “Good”, he said, “you are now the District Councilor, there is a meeting at 4:30 be there.” That started my involvement with OBEA, District Councilor, PD chair, VP of vendors, VP of professional development and President in 2003. Like Wai Lau, I will have to go to South America to get out of the OBEA grasp.

By attending OBEA conferences I would find out about the innovative, and creative things that were going on around the province, and take it back to Listowel. The workshops by two computer consultants from the London Board, Fred Buck and Linda Brown, who introduced a new course in Internet Technology. The following year I had 3 new sections. The motivational entrepreneurship workshops by Brian Childs. I introduced entrepreneurship at LDSS, and have had a section ever since. Fortunately I worked for a school board Avon Maitland, and principals who were innovative and willing to take risks. I was very fortunate as a classroom teacher, to be involved in curriculum writing, literacy documents, and revising on-line learning courses. I owe a lot to OBEA for the professional development, and for helping to make my career exciting, challenging and an adventure.

I also owe a lot to my students. The computer nerds who walked around the school with the DOS manuals under their arms. The students were an enormous help in the years before technicians, setting up networks, exploring software. We learned so much from each other. My entrepreneurship students, two of them set up a business called Gateway, becoming the first internet service provider in the Listowel area. Another couple of entrepreneurship students one summer, after an enormous struggle to get the business community to take them seriously, set up an ice-cream business. After running the business for 3 months their supplier, who initially refused to supply ice-cream to them, and would not even return their phone calls, told them they had sold more ice-cream that summer than any of his customers in Grand Bend. That fall the Listowel Chamber of Commerce awarded Tim and Ryan with the Listowel Entrepreneurs of the Year Award. Many of my students were so helpful, inspiring, and tenacious.

As you near the end of your career and you are still having fun you have to come to grips with the idea of retirement. How do you know when it is time to move on into retirement? A question I have asked retired teachers for many years. I always get the same answer. Don’t worry, you will know. I got a few clues lately. In a grade nine-computer class a student asked me, “Mr. Lawrence is that your university ring you are wearing?” “Yes it is.” “It says 1972 on it, is that the year you graduated?” “Yes, that is very observant of you”. “Mr. Lawrence, that is the year my mother was born.” OUCH!!!

Another clue. I was walking through a grade 12 computer class to pick up a printout and a student asked, “Mr. Lawrence can you help me?” “Sure what’s up?” “I don’t know how to do this”. I looked for awhile at the computer screen and said, “you know something neither do I”. A student next to us took the mouse and said “you go here, pull down this menu, click here, go over here, drag this, left click, click here and there, and that’s it.” “WOW! Nice going! Where did you learn that?” I said. “Mr. Lawrence you taught me that 3 years ago when I was in grade nine”.

I’ve had a wonderful career. What an exciting time to be a teacher from manual typewriters to computers, the internet, and email. We were the computer pioneers. Everything was changing so fast, we had to work and learn together. What a challenge. What an adventure. Thank you for honouring me today with this very special award. Thank you to my nominators and the OBEA. I will cherish this award forever. As a teacher you learn that you often get more back than you give and that is the case with me. Thank you. Thank you so much.