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For this Sense of Community segment, we profile a teacher who took a leap of faith to start a new life in a new land. KSMU's Jennifer Moore reports.
Retired Drury University Professor Jeorge Padron grew up as a schoolboy playing baseball and running through the streets of Havana, Cuba. As a teenager, he attended an English-language high school and decided to apply to universities in the United States.Padron was accepted at Oklahoma Baptist University in 1948. He said goodbye to his family, and immigrated to the USA. He would soon discover that his passion was teaching chemistry.“I always wanted to be a teacher,” Padron says. “ I taught as a graduate assistant. And I learned there was a tremendous need on how to become better students. Especially those who didn’t have self confidence. And I said, ‘I’m going to spend my life as a chemistry teacher.’”Padron started teaching at Drury University in 1957. The course he was best known for teaching was Organic Chemistry. One student who sat in his classroom in the late ‘60s was Don Deeds, now Professor Don Deeds, who returned to Drury to follow in his former professor’s footsteps."I’d say he was my number one role model as a teacher when I was here as an undergraduate," Deeds says.Now a biology professor, Deeds says Padron was not only passionate about chemistry—but also about good food, Cuban cigars, and life in general.Deeds says even though Organic Chemistry is known to be a tough course that tends to weed out students, Padron had a way of making his version of it fun.Another student who had Padron for Chemistry was Karolyn Holdren. She attended Drury as a non-traditional student, and was anxious about having to take chemistry."And it was difficult. But when he would explain something it was crystal clear, and I could see other people in the class nodding their heads," she says.She says Padron’s patience was one of his best qualities."There was this one lady, bless her heart. She had a hard time. But Professor Padron would explain it to her very patiently. He never got up set, or rushed through it. And I just thought that is the mark of a good teacher. An excellent teacher," Holdren says.Professor Padron says the most rewarding moments he’s had as a teacher have come in the form of comments or letters from former students.Padron says the guiding force behind his teaching was that he cares for people. He says every student has something to offer, and the worst thing a teacher can do is make a student feel unintelligent.He’s lived the American dream.Padron says he could have stayed in Cuba, but his opportunities would have been restricted. In Cuba, Padron says, if even a Chemistry teacher doesn’t toe the government’s official line, you either don’t get a job, or you don’t get promoted."I don’t think I would have had the freedom to develop the students. Because the system is so stricts, and you have to mix teaching with political thought," Padron says.Now in retirement and living in Springfield, Padron says he gave the very best he had for 40 years, and that he will live the rest of his life satisfied.For KSMU’s Sense of Community Series, I’m Jennifer Moore.