August 24, 2012
Elkhart's Lilly Fellows Travel Europe, Ride the Rails at Home
Everyone has dreams. But people often don't have enough money to pursue them. Thanks to an $8,000 Lilly Endowment Teacher Creativity Fellowship, three Elkhart educators were able to explore their particular passion this past summer.
One teacher toured, and even got engaged, in Italy. Another visited the European landmarks of her favorite mystery writers and is now trying her own hand at the craft, and a third educator spent his summer building a model railroad in his backyard.
The dream of Kyle Davis, a history teacher at Memorial High School, was to travel throughout Italy to research his ancestral roots and study the history and culture of the country. "I've always wanted to go to Italy," Davis said. "My mother's family is from there. And there's so much history there. As a history teacher, that was very appealing to me."
Memorial High School teacher Kyle Davis stands amidst history
Davis was accompanied on the trip by girlfriend Ashley Robertson, a science teacher at West Side Middle School, whom he met when the pair coached track together at West Side.
The highlight of the trip for the pair was their engagement. Davis popped the question while on a gondola ride with Robertson in Venice, where their adventure began.
In addition to their life changing boat ride in Venice, the couple spent time at St. Mark's Square, the Basilica, and wandering the very small city streets. "You get lost a lost a lot in Venice," Davis reported. "The streets, which are more like alleys, all look alike."
The couple then traveled to Florence, or, as Davis describes it, the capital of Renaissance Art. They viewed the Statue of David, visited the tombs of Galileo and Michelangelo, and toured the Duomo. A side trip to Pisa had them posing in front of the famous leaning tower.
The pair also sipped wine in Tuscany, strolled the Amalfi Coast in Naples, dug for artifacts in Pom Pei, and bought souvenirs in Milan, the shopping capital of Europe.
Davis' favorite leg of the trip was Rome, where he toured the Coliseum, the Forum, St. Peter's Basilica, the Vatican, the Sistine Chapel, and Trevi Fountain, all places he had seen in books or movies, but never thought he would have the opportunity to view first hand.
Delgado also toured Christie's house in Devon. "It was really amazing to see," Delgado said. "Her actual notebook, where she wrote down her ideas and plotted her stories, was in a glass case.
"It was really awesome," Davis said. "It's hard to describe in words how I felt. I couldn't believe I was actually standing in the Coliseum. It gave me goose bumps when I thought about how old it is and how many people have stood right there."
Davis said all of the Italian food was amazing, describing his daily diet as pasta and pizza. "We actually lost weight though," he reported. "We walked so much, and it was so hot, we sweated off the pounds."
Davis said it was the trip of a lifetime. "I’m a history nerd, so it was awesome for me to experience all that history," Davis said, adding he'll be able to share the historical knowledge he gained with his students and teaching colleagues. He also plans to create a Web site of photos from his trip to share with his students.
Trista Delgado, a kindergarten teacher at Osolo Elementary School, and an avid fan of murder mysteries, has been dreaming about writing her own Who Done It. Her grant project, "Murder is the Muse: Uncovering the Mysteries of English Writers," took her to England to study some of her favorite authors and experience the culture that inspired them.
"I love books and literature, especially mysteries,” said Delgado, who has taught in Elkhart for 9 years. "I wanted to discover what influences people to write what they write. What influences their imaginations?"
Delgado traveled to the places that were significant to her favorite authors, including Arthur Conan Doyle, Willkie Collins, Edith Pargiter (Ellis Peters), and Agatha Christie.
Following Christie’s path, for example, Delgado stayed at the Old Swan Hotel in Harrogate, where Christie roomed during her infamous 11-day "disappearance." Delgado slept in a room which had a photograph signed by David Suchet, one of the most famous English actors who portrays Christie's most notable character, Hercule Poirot.
Davis poses at Pisa with new fiance Ashley
Robertson, a West Side teacher. The couple
got engaged in Italy
"I've always thought of these famous writers as being very well organized and having it all together," Delgado said. "It was good to see her actual notes. I thought, 'Hey, that's how I do things...that's how I write.'"
Osolo kindergarten teacher Trista Delgado poses at the resting site of her favorite author, Agatha Christie
Delgado also traveled to Edinburgh, Scotland, where Arthur Conan Doyle was born and raised. Doyle attended the Royal College of Surgeons there, intending on becoming a physician. Delgado said this is where he met his role model for his Sherlock Holmes character in a professor, Dr. Joseph Bell.
“I wondered how Doyle came up with Sherlock Holmes,” she continued. “When you understand that he attended the College of Surgeons and studied under Dr. Bell, you understand why his writing seems so familiar, so comfortable with the methods of his character. It wasn’t some grand epiphany. The creativity and inspiration was right there in front of him the whole time.”
Delgado wants to introduce that same familiarity to her young writers, getting them to write about the things they’ve experienced. That will require her students to participate in new adventures.
“Our students need as many experiences as we can provide,” Delgado said. “We need to find a way to incorporate them into the curriculum because these are the things that will surprise them and motivate them to write and to want to learn.”
Learning what motivated her favorite authors has motivated Delgado to begin writing her own mystery stories. She’s filled a couple of notebooks with ideas and is contemplating expanding on a murder mystery play she penned last year for her sister’s birthday. Her ultimate goal is to have one of her own books published some day.
Kenneth Leach, a graphic arts teacher at the Elkhart Area Career Center, has been a train enthusiast for more than a decade. His Lilly Fellowship allowed him to spend the summer "Working on the Blooming Railroad."
On the first day of summer vacation, Leach began planning the route for the model railroad he would build around his Mishawaka property. Every day after that, other than a one-week camping trip, Leach was outside digging up sod, pulling out roots, or laying track in his yard.
Completed on his final day of summer vacation, the railroad track winds its way in and out and around his wife’s flower gardens that includes a pond and waterfall. The steel railroad cars, powered by two deep-cycle marine batteries that weigh about 100 pounds each, are big enough for both children and adults.
The 530-foot aluminum track includes railroad ties made out of recycled milk jugs and more than 13,000 screws to secure it in place. It spans Leach's entire property. He even had to cut out a section of his driveway for the project.
Leach said the most difficult aspect of the project, by far, was the hours and hours and weeks and weeks of chopping out roots from three huge trees. "It was a lot of back breaking labor," Leach said. "That is the story of my summer. With daily temperatures in the high 90s, I've never worked so hard in my life.
"But I haven't felt as good in the last 20 years coming back to work," Leach noted. "My body is dead, but my brain got a real recharging."
Leach said he'd been thinking about the home railroad "for many, many years. I was going to do it whether I got the grant or not. But it's a very expensive project. Without the grant, it would have been later rather than sooner."
While the train is operational, Leach emphasized the railroad project isn't finished yet. "This will be a years-long project," Leach stated. "We'll be making changes, adding new items, to both the gardens and the railroad, for years to come."
For example, he wants to install railroad crossing lights next to his driveway, and add lights and a whistle to the train itself.
"The whole idea behind the railroad train is people can get on and I can give them a tour of the garden," Leach said. "The springtime, when the flowers are in bloom, is when it's really neat."
Ken Leach rides the rails with his wife and granddaughter
Leach has been a member of the St. Joe Valley Railroad Club for almost a decade, and has been active in building scenery for the club's model trains. "I decided I want to have some of this stuff at home rather than just at the club," he said. "I wanted to be able to enjoy it on a daily basis."
The railroad project has sparked a lot of interest among Leach's neighbors, as well as those who drive by the busy Jefferson and Bittersweet intersection where his home is located. "I've met more train enthusiasts in the last month than I've met in the last 10 years," Leach said. "People drive by the house, see me working on the railroad, and stop in to ask questions. And of course, all the kids want to ride the train."
[Go back to this issue's headlines to access other stories.]