Began a busy day off Monday by drinking coffee, watching “The Towering Inferno” and scrolling through Facebook, and that’s where I was saddened to learn of the death of my high school calculus and advanced algebra teacher.
His name was Wally Rogelstad. He was 80 years old and died a year after suffering a cerebral hemorrhage.
I know what you’re thinking: It’s sad the fellow had to die, possibly after fighting through a difficult 12 months following the hemorrhage.
I know what you’re also thinking: The guy who writes this not exactly intellectual blog actually took calculus and advanced algebra?
Well, I did. I didn’t exactly light it up in the classroom — in those courses or any other ones at Rex Putnam High School — but that was my fault, not Mr. Rogelstad’s or any other teachers’.
Wally — as we commonly referred to him, though not to his face — was a really sharp fellow and a really good teacher of integrals, differentials, all that stuff. Just how good I didn’t realize till I got to college and took a term of calculus from a fellow who didn’t seem quite as concerned as Mr. Rogelstad was about whether we actually understood the stuff.
In addition to having Wally as a teacher for my last two years of high school math — I’ve always loved math; it’s like doing puzzles to me — he was also my teacher in Rex Putnam High’s computer science course.
Computer science in 1978 was just a tad different than it is now, as you probably imagined. We learned to program in BASIC, using a glorified typewriter keyboard wired to a mainframe somewhere. There was no monitor; everything you typed in or wanted to read was printed out teletype style.
Still, Wally made this now laughably primitive setup — two keyboards for the whole class — interesting.
In addition to my educational pursuits, if you can call them that, Wally and I also shared a love of basketball and membership in the same church, Milwaukie Lutheran; he and his wife had a couple sons about my age, and a daughter about the same age as my older sister Sandy.
In fact, when I was quite young — 2 or 3 — Sandy used to take me for long bicycle rides (she fashioned a seat for me in front of her out of a pillow strapped to the cross bar of a boys bike) that included swinging past the Rogelstads’ house in the Oak Grove section of Milwaukie.
Even though I hadn’t seen Wally much since high school, or for some time — I think the last time was several years ago at a funeral — I actually think of him fairly often, almost every time I attend a football, basketball or baseball game and walk down the bleachers.
That’s because I remember, and learned from, a little mishap Wally had one day, which he explained to us after showing up at school with his face pretty bruised up.
He’d been walking down gym bleachers with his hands in his pockets, and then unfortunately tripped. With his hands and arms unavailable, he couldn’t protect himself.
It was kind of a funny story, but of course he was lucky not to have been hurt worse than he was.
So whenever I am leaving, say, Reser Stadium, I always keep my hands out of my pockets, no matter how cold they might be. Just another lesson I picked up from Wally.
Thanks for everything, Mr. Rogelstad. Rest in peace.