Mandan News

Dan Ulmer: Remembering my mentor, Archie Shaw

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So another week went by and here’s Thursday.

From 9 to 10 a.m. this morning I had to testify on a legislative bill that we had introduced, and once that got passed I scrambled to my truck in order to attend Archie Shaw’s funeral.  Both of my loyal readers will affirm that Archie was one of my mentors.

Hang with me here while I take you back to the mid ’60s when I was in high school and Archie was the principal. Anyone who has ever met Archie knows that he’s never been one to trifle with – at least until you get to know him. I still recall the first time I was sent to his office, he had a set of eyes and demeanor that could burn a hole in ya…. but behind those eyes and staunchness was this warm heart that made you want to know more about this guy.

Despite my reputation – okay, maybe a few of those tales about me being a rebellious child were true, I was an okay student. I was a sophomore in 1966 when Archie and I cemented our relationship. For you youngsters it was March of 1966 when the worst ever blizzard hit North Dakota.

Like most 16-year-olds today I recall unconsciously groggily going through my morning routine and heading out the door. Unlike most 16-year-olds today, I walked to eight blocks to school. I’d traveled a couple of blocks before I realized that Sixth Avenue wasn’t plowed, there was no traffic, and the sidewalk drifts were knee deep.

I trudged on and finally arrived at the high school shortly before Archie did. I walked through the front door and was met by Jack Zent the janitor who said, “What are you doing here?”

While I informed him that I was a student Archie walked through the door and Jack said, “Mr. Shaw, what are you doing here?” To which Archie answered, “I’m the principal.”

Jack then informed us that school had been cancelled throughout North Dakota. Archie, who had also walked to school, turned to me and said, “Well Dan hope you get home safely.” I responded in kind to both him and Jack… and from that day forward Archie and I became friends.

Almost 20 years later, after campaigning against each other (he’s was an R and I a D), we were both elected to the legislature. We had no seniority so we were the last two House members to be seated, and while we were waiting Archie said, “We both represent Mandan, why don’t we sit together?”

And I thought, “good idea.” So for the two terms Archie served in the legislature we sat next to each other and, looking back, what a privilege it was. As you can imagine we disagreed and we agreed but more than anything we were able to discuss why we did what we did… and more often than not we found a workable middle ground.

So as I look back I can’t help but think about the phrase, “Agree where you can, disagree where you have to, but make sure you walk away friends.” Archie exuded this and I was fortunate enough to understand that Archie was a master in the art of teaching.

Archie was grateful for his educational opportunities. He was a good student in the sense that he not only loved to learn, he was incredibly generous when it came to sharing his learnings with others.  Thousands of students have benefited from the good fortune of his existence because he listened to his students before he shared his thoughts. I look back with a smile because anyone who has ever taught a class knows that a good teacher always learns more than their students… so at a minimum, Archie was an educated person who left me with a lot more than I ever gave him… and all I can say is thanks, Archie.

All we get to take with us is what we know, so those who have touched us will be with us wherever we go. Here’s hoping that the mentors in your life help you get to wherever you need to be.