In Memoriam

Any idiot can memorize the words of a book, Señorita…
~ Patrick J. Gargoline, PhD

He was one of the smartest people I ever met. If I remember correctly, he spoke five languages (English, Spanish, Italian, French, Portuguese) fluently and at least one other (German) passably. He loved music, played piano, and sang. He had a wicked sense of humor and used it on unsuspecting victims, of which I was one often. He didn’t suffer fools easily, and he was more impressed by how a student used his/her knowledge than by how much that student could regurgitate back to him. He was my hero professor.

I met Patrick J. Gargoline about five minutes after I got out of the car on my first day of college. He was registering and greeting new students, and when he heard my name, he exclaimed, “Señorita Lodyn, we must talk. You have signed up for the wrong classes.” A wave of fear swept over me as that handsome man grabbed my hand and pulled me to the side of the table.

He had recognized my name because I had registered as a Spanish major, and he was head of the Walsh College’s language program. I didn’t realize that at the time as I had no idea who he was, and I remember pulling back a bit as the handsome man with wavy silver and black hair told me that I was not going to take Spanish 201 because I was beyond that. No, he insisted, I would take Spanish 301 (advanced grammar) and Spanish 3-something else (literature of some sort). “And,” he added as I gaped at him, “I see you play piano. Good. I need someone to play for the choir. You’re it.” I had not even touched a key for him.

I tried to counter his demands, but all that came out of my mouth was, “But, but….”

“Our first practice is Monday at 7:00,” he informed me as he scribbled my new classes on my schedule. “I’ll see you in class first, and at practice then.”

I was much too afraid of him (and most adults) to go against his demands. He had cast his net over me.

It took a few weeks, but I gradually got more comfortable with Garg. As the only freshman in the upper-level Spanish courses, I was timid in class. He checked on me after each class and before choir practice in the evenings. When I was unsure of a song he wanted me to play at those choir practices, he played the song for me and had me repeat it stanza-by-stanza. I learned more from him in my first semester in choir than I did in years of lessons from my old piano teacher, Mrs. Dieward (or whatever her name was).

Except for the year he was on sabbatical to get his PhD (“It doesn’t make me any smarter, just gives me a few more letters after my name,” he told me.), I took any class I could from Garg. If he saw me in the hallway between classes, he would grab my arm and pull me into his next class. Many days I would sit as he taught Spanish 201 or World Literature and participate even though I was not in the class.

Classroom learning, though, was only part of it. I spent time talking to him and listening to his advice. Once, when I groused about having to memorize something for another class, a useless exercise in my opinion, he showed his disdain for the assignment by telling me, “Any idiot can memorize the words of a book, Señorita. What matters is what you do with the knowledge.”

The man did smoke

I’m not going to bore you with the memories. Suffice to say that after I graduated, I would write to him occasionally, and he would respond. My last correspondence with him was probably 12-15 years ago. I lost his address, but I thought of him often.

For some time, I have wanted to write to him and let him know that I have become an Italian citizen and am now also speaking Italian. I have wanted to thank him for giving me strength and courage to do something with my knowledge. I have wanted to let him know that I never lost the memory of him and that he still means so much to me.

Mike and I were driving home last night when Garg entered my mind. “I must try to get his address so I can write to him,” I said. As luck would have it, Walsh Times, my college’s alumni quarterly, arrived in the mail yesterday, and I picked it up when I sat down. On the last page, I saw it: In Memoriam. Patrick Gargoline, PhD. By my calculation, he would have been about 89 years old.

I’m a bit perturbed that the lines they wrote about him were, while nice, superficial. Worse, though, was the photocopied photo that accompanied them. For a man who dedicated his life to his students and that college and who bequeathed his entire estate to it, it was an insult.

I hope I have given him a better elegy.

Descanze con la paz de Dios, Profesor.

(All photos scanned from Walsh College yearbooks.)

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