This week on Senior Voices, Oakwood resident Gary Mitchner recalls a few of the mentors who inspired his career in education. He began teaching at Sinclair Community College in 1972, and served as its first poet laureate before retiring in 2006. He spoke with Dayton Metro Library volunteer interviewer and Community Voices producer, Tess Cortes.
Tess Cortes (TC): I’d like to talk a little bit about what it was like for you during school, especially considering you’re a professor emeritus, school must have been very important for you, I think. Can you talk a little bit about your school days, like where did you go to school?
Gary Mitchner (GM): Well, I went to high school in Franklin, Franklin High School, but I had a neighbor that I have to talk about who was really my mentor. Her name was Mrs. Timberlake and her son Alan Timberlake was sort of my best friend. She was very intellectual, she had books in the house. She encouraged me, even so that when I finally applied to college she helped me write the college essay, and I remember saying, “well what should I put down as a profession? And she said, “Oh, put down literary critic.” And then the other person in high school who influenced me was my tenth grade high school English teacher. I had been a reader because that was a way for me to sort of escape from the chaos that was going on in my house I’d read a lot of things but I didn’t consider reading any good book until the tenth grade in high school when Mrs. Hall as her name was at that time, Margaret Hall, she now is still alive and living in Naples, she gave me The Return of the Native by Thomas Hardy to read and we were still doing Alfred Lord Tennyson in class, Idylls of the King, but I can remember sitting in the back of the room with Idylls of the King hiding Return of the Native and just being reading that so of course I went through a Thomas Hardy novel and read everything he wrote and even named my daughter Tess after Tess of the D’Ubervilles, but we called her Tess D’Oakwood ‘cause she grew up in Oakwood.
TC: How did you meet your wife?
GM: I was ushering at the theatre in Wilmington, I remember the play was The Fantasticks which I saw like eight times because I was ushering, and she came to that play, and then we ended up in a creative writing class.
TC: How did you know that she was the one?
GM: Well, I used to see her in the student union and I thought she was a mystic. She just seemed very sort of mysterious and mystical. Later I found it was her contact lenses, but that’s how I sort of was intrigued by her. She had these mystical eyes, but it was really her contact lenses.
TC: And what’s her name?
GM: Her name was Marilyn Lobath, Marilyn Ann Lobath, yes, Mitchner now.
TC: How long have you guys been married?
GM: Forty-eight years.
TC: Do you have any advice for young couples?
GM: It’s hard work. You have to work at it. It’s not something easy, relationships are never easy whatever the circumstances, I just mostly preach compromise. I ended up teaching a lot of Greek mythology and of course the Greek virtue is moderation.
This interview was edited by Community Voices producer Alan Staiger. Senior Voices is a collaboration between the Dayton Metro Library, Rebuilding Together Dayton, and WYSO. This series is made possible through the generous support of the Del Mar Healthcare Fund of the Dayton Foundation.