Lewisburg French teacher retiring after 42 years educating |

LEWISBURG – When 2022 Lewisburg Area High School graduate Andrew Nicholls talked about his French teacher, William Fennell, who is retiring after 42 years, Nicholls described Fennell as a personable instructor who made learning fun.

As the conversation ended, Nicholls added, “Ask him to tell you about his trips. He and his wife have traveled everywhere and have a lot of stories. ”

Fennell laughed when told about that and said his students always wanted to have what they dubbed “Fennell Fridays,” where they asked him to talk about his travels. In fact, when Notre-Dame Cathedral burned in 2019, kids ran into his classroom to tell him, knowing he and Mrs. Fennell had been there. Even some of his students who had graduated emailed to commiserate.

Those scenes illustrate Fennell’s conviction on the importance of education’s “human element.” Mindful of how certain teachers had sparked his own interests, he always tried to not merely convey the subject matter but share his passion for it in the hopes it might inspire students to build lives they love as much as Fennell loves his.

“The human element of teaching became really evident with COVID,” he said. “Online teaching might be efficient, but the interaction individually and as a class is harder to achieve.”

Finding careers to love

After graduating from Bucknell University with degrees in English and French, Fennell saw “A Chorus Line” on Broadway. The song “What I Did for Love” made him realize that what he really wanted to do was teach. He earned his teaching certification and started at Lewisburg in January, 1980, first teaching English and American literature and, eventually, French.

“I remember that when I received one of my first paychecks, I was amazed that I could be paid for the joy of teaching Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet,” he said during a school board meeting honoring retirees.

Fennell’s wife, Vicki Fennell, was hired as a Lewisburg High School guidance counselor shortly after they married in the 1990s. She also retired this year, after 29 years of service at Lewisburg. Students have referred to their departure as the end of the “Fennell Era.” Mrs. Fennell praised her husband’s commitment, noting that he has taught the children of former students.

“To spend your whole career in one place… I don’t think many people do that,” she said.

Brian Ulmer, a Lewisburg attorney, was a junior in Mr. Fennell’s English class in 1986-87.

“As a teacher, he was masterful at bringing life to readings that were, in some cases, centuries old. He had a wonderful ability to pick out works that would be interesting in a modern era, ”Ulmer said. “In my opinion, he also related very well to the student body. He knew everyone, he recognized everyone and he appreciated everyone, including those students who sometimes went under the radar. ”

Then and now

In 2016, Lewisburg Area High School relocated to a brand new building outside of town. Having taught at the Market Street building for almost 37 years, Mr. Fennell was asked to share some memories that eventually were printed in a “My Turn” column in “The Daily Item” that year.

He recalled being interviewed in 1980 by Dr. Joseph Roy and Dr. Donald Eichhorn, two beloved educators in the school district’s history, as well as being treated kindly by one of his first students, George Drozin, now principal of the Donald H. Eichhorn Middle School.

He remembered mimeographed pages, blackboards and chalk, and filmstrips and overhead projectors. He mentioned students wearing “preppy” clothing, attending Friday night dances in the gym and playing Trivial Pursuit.

After 42 fulfilling years, he is now looking forward to retirement with Mrs. Fennell. They hope to travel but plan to stay in Lewisburg.

“We both wanted to leave while we still liked our jobs,” he said.

About being a counselor, Mrs. Fennell said, “I just hope I was a friend to the students and that I helped them in some way to find a future path.”

The Fennell Era will likely affect students for a long time to come.

“As someone who went to college and to further education, I carried his method with me throughout my academic career,” Ulmer said. “If you paid attention, William Fennell would teach you how to write clearly and concisely. That sustained me for years. He is a great educator and a truly nice man. ”

As a parting gift, Mr. Fennell’s French 5 students designed and signed a tie – he was known for wearing unique ties – that included a quote from Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s “The Little Prince.”

“I hope that I have imparted a love of literature and the French language and culture to my students, and that they will continue to explore those interests as adults,” Mr. Fennell said. “Similarly, I hope that they will find a job that they will do ‘for love,’ and that they will find as much meaning in their professional and personal lives as I have found at Lewisburg High School.

“Finally, I would like to thank everyone that I encountered during the past 42 years at the high school who contributed to my wonderful life there.”

Cindy O. Herman lives in Snyder County. Email comments to her at [email protected]


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