An Important Place, A Special Person

Two institutions are celebrating significant milestones in 2017.

Herkimer College, Herkimer, NY

Herkimer College, Herkimer, NY

My junior college, Herkimer College (formerly known as Herkimer County Community College) is marking its fiftieth year. 

I graduated from that college many years ago and went on to earn a Bachelor of Arts degree from Syracuse University. 

I met my future wife at Herkimer. 

It was an important place for me.  The College is marking the year with activities focused on fifty years of commitment to serving the educational needs of the Mohawk Valley region of upstate New York.

Dave Trautlein from the early 1970s when he served as Dean of the College, at Herkimer County Community College, now known as Herkimer College.  Photo from Factory 70 (Herkimer College yearbook)

Dave Trautlein from the early 1970s when he served as Dean of the College, at Herkimer County Community College, now known as Herkimer College.  Photo from Factory 70 (Herkimer College yearbook)

The other institution reaching a milestone is my father-in-law Dr. H. David Trautlein, Dean of the College Emeritus, Herkimer College.   

Dave marks his ninetieth birthday in March.  He'll celebrate his birthday with his wife (my mother-in-law Angie) and his family in California. 

The couple gave up their Central New York snow shovels and moved to the Golden State last year.  His birthday celebration will unite four generations of family sharing reflections.

I have my own reflections. 

The memory I hold closest happened more than three decades ago. 

I’ll never forget the wide eyes and big smile.

There I was in Huntsville Hospital in the early 1980s, holding my newborn daughter.  She came into this world about six weeks early and required neonatal care. 

She was going to be all right, or at least that’s what the doctors and nurses kept telling me.  It was hard to see normalcy at the end of an image of tubes and wires that kept my little girl alive during these critical first days of life.

When my in-laws arrived from upstate New York, they wanted to see their first grandchild.  I took them to the hospital.  I went inside the neonatal unit where I scrubbed, put on my surgical gown, and sat down as the nurse placed my little girl in my arms. 

I looked at her for at least a minute before realizing that her grandparents were on the other side of the window looking in. 

That’s where I saw the big smile on the face of my father-in-law.

At that moment, I knew everything was going to be all right.  And it was.  My daughter celebrates her thirty-fifth birthday in March alongside her grandfather and me.

I was so taken by that simple act of a genuine smile that I wrote about it in my book Soft Skills for Hard Times:

That look of sheer joy on the faces of my in-laws told me everything was going to be all right.
Dave Trautlein is third from the left in the top row of this picture.  He served in the US Navy in the closing days of World War II

Dave Trautlein is third from the left in the top row of this picture.  He served in the US Navy in the closing days of World War II

Born as the Great Depression was winding down, Dave was the youngest in a family with four boys and two girls. 

He went into the Navy in the final years of World War II and was ready for action when the Japanese surrender was signed.  He then left the service, went to college on the GI Bill, and began building a life for himself.

He married Angie in the 1955 and they had three children.  He taught English in a western New York high school before accepting a post with Alfred Agricultural and Technical College in New York State. 

In the mid-1960s, he took a sabbatical leave and moved the family to Florida for one year as he pursued courses for a doctoral degree. 

He received his PhD from Florida State University shortly after accepting a new post as Dean of that new community college in Central New York.

I came into his picture a few years later.  As a student at Herkimer College, I met and fell in love with his oldest daughter.  We married in 1980.

 In retirement Dave enjoyed a number of activities including an annual fishing trip with his friends.  Photo from Dave Trautlein

 In retirement Dave enjoyed a number of activities including an annual fishing trip with his friends.  Photo from Dave Trautlein

Dave served Herkimer County Community College, until his retirement in the mid-1980s.  Retirement was spent traveling, visiting his grandchildren (there would be four in total), camping, fishing, reading books (as well as the Sunday New York Times), writing two books, and listening to jazz.

I’ve learned a lot from this man over the years.  He’s been a great audience to my occasional outbreaks of laughter. 

I found out the best way to fold a cardboard box, why one should buy the best cut of steak for an outdoor barbecue, and learned why luggage expands to fit the size of the car trunk. 

And I saw by his steady attendance at the annual reunion, that family really matters.  

I hope I learned a lot by following his example. 

Dave wrote a history of Herkimer College's first twenty years.  He was recognized as one of the institution’s torchbearers in 2004. 

A scholarship endowment created by his oldest daughter’s family bears his name and embodies his core beliefs of what a community college should be. 

This year, the endowment will award its tenth scholarship to a deserving student.

His family will gather to honor him when he celebrates his birthday.  A lot of memories will be shared.

But for me, only one memory matters.  It's that image of a proud grandfather looking at his new grandchild for the first time.  That’s an image that will remain with me for the rest of my life.

Steve Newvine lives in Merced. 

He is one of several volunteer presenters at the Love Plus life skills program organized by Love INC of Greater Merced.  In the Love Plus program, he uses his book Soft Skills for Hard Times to offer ideas on increasing people's value at work and in their lives.