Fall 2012. It was my second year at Chatfield College, and I had American Government with Fr. Kammerer. I’d heard a lot about him of course, as he was a fixture at the college. It was an election year, and I was the only kid in a class full of College Credit Plus, or CCP, (Post-Secondary Enrollment Options then) students who was eligible to vote for president. That did not stop Fr. Kammerer from impressing upon all us the vital importance of voting in local and national elections, and making your voice heard in the political process. His enthusiasm and joy in bringing history and concepts to life in the classroom made more effective to us his often weighty and intricate teachings of government and the Constitution. His jokes helped too, but no one was more tickled by them than he was.
He had many real-life examples of the decisions made by “the somebodies” and how they affected our day-to-day lives. He brought in speakers who were in ‘the trenches’ of the political process and the interpretation of the Constitution, including a member of Romney’s campaign staff and our own college president, John Tafaro. He knew everybody and happily showed off his extensive collection of artifacts to the class.
He had so much pride in his connections and his collections. He was full of pride the day he took the class over to the recently-renamed Fr. Kammerer Library and Learning Center. The dedication would be that evening, but because we were ‘somebodies’ to him, he’d give us a sneak peek.
Giggling with anticipation he led us to the sign out front.
‘Well” he said, “that’s wrong!”
“What’s wrong?” We asked. Mentally I was trying to recall how he spelled his last name thinking that was what had caught his eye.
He gestured to the sign. “It’s supposed to say Fr. Raymond Kammerer Memorial Library!”
We took to giggling ourselves and gently reminded him that he was still alive.
“Well,” he said shaking a finger at us. “I’m entrusting you all to make sure they change it when I am no longer of this mortal plane!”
The last time I saw him was last year in his home in Waynesville. He was as proud of his collection and his work as ever, having retired from teaching in 2016. He might have left the classroom but the classroom never left him. It was like being back in American Government, listening to the same enthusiastic stories, and getting a refresher on all the imparted wisdom from nearly a decade ago. He was delighted a former student of his would be watching over his library. He was kind enough to pretend he remembered me, but he’d had my mother and my grandmother before me in class, so I can’t fault him for forgetting a face.
“You’ve read my book?” He asked in a way that wasn’t really a question. He didn’t wait for an answer but grabbed one of his own copies of his autobiography. He flipped until he found what he was looking for and pointed. “There is my favorite part. If you get nothing else out of this little book, remember that.”
The section about the library read: “It is my hope and desire that students of the future will view the art items, replicas, daggers and all else I used in class and gain some information from this collection. Perhaps some future history professor will make use of them. I hope too that they will take from the shelves my books that I so loved, and gain some light of knowledge and enrichment in their lives. And just perhaps, this or that rare professor or student will stop for a moment and wonder about the man who acquired, owned and used them.”
Father, nearly every day I walk into the Chatfield library, your library. It is quiet and still in the morning, but bustling with student’s laughter and camaraderie by noon. They study and they goof off at the tables in the ‘new’ section of the library and like all good students, they ask questions.
They ask for help finding books.
They ask about the artifacts already housed in a glass-doored shelf in the addition.
They ask who the guy in the portrait over the circulation desk is. Others will say that should be obvious, that’s Fr. Kammerer, didn’t you read the sign?
They wonder and they learn new things every day, and they keep me on my toes like we did you (and you did us).
I promise you Father, that they will keep wondering about you, and that the students you taught won’t forget your lessons.
And I promise to change the sign.