dianaWhen you think of the leader who has had the most influence on you as a person, who comes to mind? An international luminary whose reputation is worldwide? Or someone whom perhaps no one but you knows as a leader? I suspect that for many of you it is the latter. For me, it was my fifth-grade homeroom teacher, Helga Delviks. Latvian by birth, Miss Delviks came to the United States as a child when her family escaped the Soviet Union with only the clothes they were wearing—or so it was rumored. Whether the story was true or apocryphal is irrelevant, as it was what my 10-year-old self believed at the time. I do know that her parents spoke broken English, and that her father worked as a landscaper. Considering where I grew up, it is quite possible they were the only immigrant family of which I was aware.

I adored Miss Delviks. All 30 of us did. We also feared her. She was in her early 20s, and was a tough, no-nonsense disciplinarian. (Her nickname was “Sarge.”) But hiding behind that NCO’s countenance was a very large heart, and she made us feel as if we were hands down the best class she had ever had the privilege of teaching.

Fifth grade was challenging. We agonized over our first-ever research papers, deciphered complex math problems, and struggled to earn gold stars in cursive. We also endured embarrassing single-sex presentations on human reproductive systems. But that’s not all we learned.

An American citizen by choice, Miss Delviks clearly understood what it meant to be one. She saw to it that we pledged allegiance to the flag, studied the U.S. presidents and the Constitution, and memorized the state capitals. We also exchanged handwritten letters with American soldiers fighting against a communist regime being supported by the very Socialist state she had fled. Being only 10, I could not fully appreciate the deep lessons she taught us about our own country of origin, but as I look back on the year 1966–67, I am full of gratitude that she did.

To all the Miss Delvikses out there, thank you for caring enough about the important things in life to pass them on to your pupils. Such is the ultimate gift of all great leaders.

For the Record,

Diana L. Weggler

Diana L. Weggler

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