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Column: Retiring editor fueled man’s writing aspirations

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Among the dictionary definitions of mentor are tutor, coach, trusted counselor and guide.

Over the years, I have known a number of people who either now wear or have worn the badge as my mentor. It is no surprise that the leaders of the mentor list, with platinum badges, are Mother and Father. Of course, they not only served as mentors; they fed, housed and clothed me.

I have been very fortunate to have many very good mentors all along the way. In the early years, there were the teachers: third grade, Lela Lee; high school social studies, Russell Colbert; and Marion Crawley, football coach.

While still in high school, my first boss taught me how to run the theater popcorn machine and sell the product.

Then after high school, the retail store managers instructed me how to sell shoes and decorate sidewalk show windows. The pile-driving crew foreman made sure I did not kill myself or a co-worker. My primary and basic flight instructors gave me the skill to put an airplane in the air and back, intact, on the ground.

After the war, there followed countless other mentors who saw that I not only obtained an engineering degree but put it to good use.

Unfortunately, most of those who helped me along the way are no longer here for me to thank. Until now, my mentors, with one or two exceptions, have had one thing in common. That is, they were older than I and retired before I did.

At the end of the year just past, another exception occurred. My current and latest mentor, who is considerably younger than I, retired. You may have guessed who he is; however, in case you have not, you will have to read a bit further.

In the early ’90s, retired and with time on my hands, I decided to chronicle my experiences as a U.S. Army Air Force pilot during 1942 to 1945. With a couple of chapters written, I asked Barbara, my wife, and Gwen, my daughter-in-law, if I should continue, and they said yes. Titled “My War,” I finished it and had a few printed by a local printer.

Sometime later, a friend to whom I had given a copy called and told me to check eBay as there was a copy of my book up for auction. It sold for $20. Envisaging a flood of dollars, I contacted a vanity book publisher in Bloomington and went to press. Soon, I had both hardback and paperback copies of my book available.

With book in hand, I recalled there was a fellow in Columbus who has a real interest in things historical. I stopped by his office and left a copy.

A few months later, I happened to meet him on the street. He stopped and said how much he enjoyed the book and then added, “For an engineer, you write pretty.” (I do not remember whether he said “well” or “good.” Whichever is grammatically correct is what he said.) My mentor protects me, and I protect him.

Continuing the conversation, Harry McCawley added, “Would you care to join the The Republic panel of community columnists?”

I agreed and since 2006 have written more than 50 of these little pieces. I really have enjoyed doing it. With my mentor retiring, I do not know how or if I will survive.

John C. Walter, a Cummins Inc. retiree, is a member of a panel of community writers whose opinions appear weekly in The Republic. The opinions expressed are those of the writer. He can be reached by email at

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