Radar, mum, peep, and toot

By Angela Shepherd - ashepherd@civitasmedia.com

Radar, mum, peep, and toot are all examples of palindromic words. While fun, attempting to construct something that is the same forward and backward can be a bit challenging, too. And a palindrome doesn’t just have to be words, but can be numbers, phrases – any organization of characters that reads the same from beginning to end as it does from end to beginning.

It seems innocent enough, doesn’t it, this meander into heavier seas from the innocuous palindrome. But I feel the forward-backward thing is quite the appropriate segue into something else.

I first learned of palindromes from a former math teacher at McClain High School, Mr. John Baal. So when I saw a post in recent days centered on palindromic phrases, I thought that this must be the right time to pen a little something in his memory.

The beloved teacher (father, husband, grandfather, brother, uncle, friend) passed away in July. He was 65.

And while he may have passed on from this earth, he is remembered by so many.

Twenty some years ago I had two classes with the highly regarded Mr. Baal. I rarely picked up what he was laying down. But, recalling how to figure the angle (or should it be angles?) of an isosceles triangle is not what I brought with me from his classroom, but the experience of being taught by the likes of Mr. Baal.

Math, and anything related to it, is just not my thing. But, no matter his students’ ability at grasping the subject matter, he was so patient, and tried to make the whole experience fun.

The day of his passing I got onto Facebook, not quite sure of the message that I wanted to impart, but sure that I wanted to say something because, frankly, he truly affected so many of us. Once on the social media site, I saw that scores of others had the same idea, leaving Mr. Baal messages of thanks.

A testament to how much Mr. Baal was loved is evidenced not only by the messages that are still, a month later, being posted to his Facebook page, but also that scads of us changed our profile pictures to that of a Pi symbol.

I don’t think that he ever forgot any of us, and clearly none of us ever forgot Mr. Baal.

I remember running into him once at Furman’s, each of us waiting at the bar for our respective orders. I greeted him using the formal name by which I had always addressed him, Mr. Baal. But he requested that I call him John. After all, he had not been my teacher for some time as I had graduated several years prior. But I just couldn’t do it, and I told him as much.

Ever since hearing he was sick, and then seeing all the messages of support, and messages of remembrance since he passed, I’ve given a lot of thought as to why there was such a showing from so many colleagues and former students.

What was so special about Mr. Baal? For starters — his smile, kindness, infinite patience, laughter, his being genuinely genuine, so-stinking-smart, and funny.

While his classes may not have awakened a math genius in this girl, I remember Pi (3.14159 …, although I just don’t know what to do with it) because of him, and the Pythagorean Theorem (although if my life depended on remembering what that is exactly (or even generally), well, I’d be in trouble, square roots, and, of course, the palindrome.

I remember the creaking boards of that third-floor classroom, the bright light spilling in through the tall windows, the darkened doorway of the “computer lab” of the late 1980s that consisted of three machines, and Mr. Baal’s “running man” routine in front of the chalky chalk board – all that white dust the remnants of formulas I didn’t get and geometric something or others that eluded me.

While I spoke with him several times through sporadic meetings in the more than two decades that followed my graduation, I knew Mr. Baal best from the classroom. Judging by the stories I have heard from others of Mr. Baal’s time on Greenfield City Council, his time as mayor, and countless other avenues by which people spent time with this man, one thing is abundantly clear, in his parting a lasting legacy remains.

Mr. Baal (sorry John, you will always be Mr. Baal), left an enduring impression on so many of us, and I think we are all better off for having spent the time with him, whether we got all that math business or not.

Reach Angela Shepherd at 937-393-3456, ext. 1681, or on Twitter @wordyshepherd.


By Angela Shepherd