Born: 12-10-1928 (John)
Born: 2-10-1934 (martha)
Years after retiring from teaching at Thomas Carr Howe High School, John R. Ervin is still praised by his former students who call him their favorite teacher.
He took an active part in the lives of his students and used creative means to teach them. To engage them with poetry, for example, he dressed up as James Whitcomb Riley and taught students his poems.
He was loved by his students and valued by school administrators who admired his sway and commitment to education.
“I took a very active part at Howe,” said Ervin, 85, a retired English teacher and formerly chairman of the North Central Association, which accredits high schools.
“I did a lot of extra stuff when they wanted something done,” said Ervin, who taught at Howe nearly 30 years. “They came to me except for sports. I hate sports.”
His wife, Martha, who is 80, was also a teacher. She taught 3rd through 6th grade at Indianapolis Public School 88. Students graduated from School 88 and went to Howe.
“So we ruined quite a few,” Mrs. Ervin joked.
The couple live at Rosewalk, as assisted living community operated by American Senior Communities, where they share their apartment with their cat.
Ervin said he never dreamed of becoming a teacher. “I hated school with a passion. When I walked out of Columbus High School with my diploma, I said I’d never set foot in another school.”
He went to Purdue University for a year and had planned to continue the family tradition of farming on land in Bartholomew County the family has owned for more than 115 years. He was an only child, so he knew he would have full responsibility for the land one day.
“But I wasn’t smart enough to be a farmer,” he said. “So I went to the Army, which was the greatest thing that happened to me. I learned so much.”
Back home from the military, he enrolled at Indiana University. That’s where he met his wife, who was an elementary education major.
Ervin said he took a teaching job in Hagerstown because that’s where Mrs. Ervin got a job. Her first assignment was in the classroom where she had been a sixth grader herself.
“She’s the born teacher,” he said of his wife.
“I remember playing teacher when I was a child,” she said. “Teaching was my love.”
Mrs. Ervin became a fulltime wife and mother after the birth of their daughter, Mattie. “After our only child was in school full time, I became bored so I started substitute teaching,” she said. “I did it for every grade from kindergarten to high school.”
After moving to Indianapolis, she became a columnist for a few community papers, writing about cooking. She currently writes a column, “Cooking with M.E.” for the Hagerstown paper, the Meadow Creek Gazette.
The Ervins say they are often discouraged by the news they hear about public education.
“We don’t hear the good things, and I know there are good things. We just hear how public schools have failed,” said Ervin.
And sometimes they believe the commitment to education is not widely what it used to be. “I hear of teachers who beat the kids out of the building. Some don’t seem to have the dedication,” Ervin said.
For as popular as he has been with students, you would think teaching is his No. 1 joy. That designation actually is antique collecting, he said.
Until recently, the Ervins spent a lot of time at antique shows. He said he also loves reupholstering furniture.
His favorite pastime is going to the Indiana State Fair, he said. He also spent time as a tour guide at the Scottish Rite.
“We’ve had a great life,” he said.