I’m not sure why this is the case, but when I was younger, I never looked back. When I left a place or an institution, I was really bad at maintaining ties. For example, I didn’t remain in touch with any friends from high school (other than my boyfriend, since he was with me in college and most of grad school) until the last few years. Facebook helped with that. And while I do have a couple of grad school friends, such as my favorite fellow student (that’s Steve H) and favorite professor (that’s Georgia M), I’ve lost touch with most people other than a random hello.
What about my four years of growth and learning at the University of Florida (where I never managed to see any of my high school friends who were there at the same time)? I have one, count ’em one, friend from my undergrad years. That’s Liz from Japanese class. Someone has to share those Swann-sensei memories with me.
That was true until this week, when I finally got back in touch with the only undergrad teacher I’d considered a friend. I’d thought about him often, through the years, and always had held him up as an example of how you really get educated in important things like social skills and political dialogue (that was drinking extremely cheap beer at the Rathskeller every week for three or four years). But, I hadn’t been in touch with him for a very long time, though I’d looked off and on.
What happened? It’s a funny one.
It turns out Fred Shenkman, PhD had been thinking about me and the ex boyfriend all these years. Since C., the ex, is now an academic superstar in his field (as we always knew he would be), he ran into Dr. Shenkman one day some years ago, when he was on the UF campus as part of his work. He knocked on the door, and hooray, they reconnected.
Fast forward to last week. Dr. Shenkman was thinking about how he got his nickname, which is Doc. He likes to tell the story, so it comes up often, and he always talks about the student who originally gave him the name back in the late 70s. Only, for some reason, he blanked out on the student’s name!
He spent a half hour trying to dredge “Sue Ann Kendall” up out of his mind. He’s not THAT old, so it should have been there. When it finally came to him, he wasn’t sure if he was just fooling himself (but really, who’d make up that name, other than my parents?).
So, he emailed C., and sheepishly asked him what his college girlfriend’s name was…was it Sue Ann? He said he’d like to get in touch, so I got an email. Hooray, Doc was still around!
We scheduled a call, and in the meantime he internet stalked me to see what I looked like. I got a photo, so I’d know he still has that 70s mustache we all loved. I guess he doesn’t have the black Firebird with the giant bird decal anymore, but I didn’t ask.
Anyway, I highly recommend reconnecting with people you care about. It may well turn out that they care about you, too! I had so much fun hearing about what Doc had done with his life since 1980 (just 40 years, didn’t take long…ha ha ). He was totally famous for a while, and my heart swelled with happiness when I learned he is an advocate for the 911 dispatchers around the country. I know how hard that job is, from knowing my own dispatcher friends. It touched me to know he still goes by Doc, too. I hope he enjoyed hearing what I’d been doing.
We’re going to talk more, and I owe him photos of Lee and my kids, and of course, all the pets. I assume I’ll get a photo of his adult daughter who has had an amazing career, too. I’m so glad to have my old friend back. We’re not getting any younger.
I really, really wish I wasn’t so intent on cutting ties because I was ashamed of some perceived mistake I made. That was, um, immature? Yes.
11 thoughts on “Ghosts from the Past (good ones)”
I took two classes for “Doc” when I was an undergrad at UF in 2001-2005 and he remains to this day the BEST professor I have ever had (through two degrees and several random classes at four different colleges). I tell stories from his lectures all the time and have said for years I would love to get back in touch with him but none of my internet searches have come up with any way I could contact him. If there is any chance you would be willing to share his email address with me (with his permission of course) I would be ever so grateful!
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I can get you his phone number. He loves to talk to former students. I’ll email you!
I am so glad you got back in touch also and what a heartfelt tribute. I always felt just the same way. There are few professors and people that touch your life in such a way and leave such an everlasting impression. I just got back in touch with Doc too and I just can’t figure out why I didn’t reach out sooner! Either way, we are all very fortunate for the fact that he touched our lives. Again, thank you for your great article! Best wishes!
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Thanks for commenting!
Awesome article! I was lucky enough to keep in touch with Doc as I live locally! He was there at my college graduation party and the birth of my kids! He still loves to speak with anyone who wants to learn about race, policing, and poverty which go hand in hand! Never had a professor who inspired me more and challenged my views than Doc. Made you think before you spoke for sure!
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That’s for sure! Thanks for writing.
Doc, a moniker I did not know him by, is currently a neighbor of mine and has been for 22 years. I am not sure one could ask for a better neighbor or a more thoughtful friend.
He drops emails on holidays, has always been concerned of our family’ well being, and easily asks for favors when he needs them. Those of you that had him as a prof or mentor should be glad and continue to stay in touch with him.
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Hey, how did you find this article? I’m only asking because suddenly I got lots of hits. It makes me happy. And I’m glad to be in touch with him!
Dear Sue, Thanks for taking the time to post this about Fred Shenkman. You and I share a fondness for him and indeed he went by “Doc” while I was there in the late 80’s. I took three classes with Fred which I think he joked as the “trilogy”. I left UF feeling I learned the most in my years from Fred Shenkman. He shaped the way I looked at the world and its problems.
What a lovely tribute, Paul. I know he’d really appreciate it. I’m glad we are back in touch; I heard from him just yesterday, as a matter of fact!