No one is happy — not the students nor the staff at Barberton Middle School — that Sandra Travis is retiring today.
Saddest of all is Travis herself.
The decision to leave at midyear was made not by her heart, but by her back. Stenosis, it’s called.
“A couple of weeks before Christmas, Sandy was clearly struggling with a very painful back problem, yet each day she would be here for the students,” Barberton Middle School Principal Judy Myers said. “One day after watching her limp down the hallway to her classroom, she tearfully admitted to me that the pain was becoming so great that her doctor insisted that she take time off. With great reluctance she relented and took time for herself to heal. She was still hopeful that the rest would allow her to return to her students.” But that wasn’t to be.
So Sandy, a fifth-grade teacher, is officially closing the door on a career that has spanned 30 years. “It’s not the way I wanted to go out!” she said.
Of course, she’s not the first teacher to take an untimely retirement.
But this 62-year-old’s story is unconventional in the incredible, life-altering gifts she’s leaving behind. Not just the intangible ones, like all of the children’s lives she’s touched with her love of learning and over-the-moon dedication to them and the teaching profession.
It’s also the tremendous tangibles in the form of identical twin sons, Jonathan and Jeremy Travis, who are graduates and former teachers in Barberton City Schools, and now assistant principals in the very building in which their mother taught. Jeremy — who is one minute older — also is at the high school on alternate days.
Students, the Travis twins laugh, have trouble telling them apart. So, they often look for “the ring,” as Jeremy is the married one. He and his wife, Sara, have a 9-month-old daughter, Alexa.
Lest I give Mom all of the credit for the 33-year-old twins’ career paths, I must mention that Homer Travis also played a key role. The 63-year-old was the first school administrator in the family. He retired in 2010, his most recent job being transportation supervisor for Jackson Local Schools. The Chardon school shooting last year brought him out of retirement for a while, to be that “extra presence” in the hallways at Barberton Middle School, which serves more than 1,000 students in grades 5-8.
Not that Jon and Jeremy couldn’t have handled things themselves, as both are graduates of the ALICE (Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter, Evacuate) program designed to assist school officials in responding to armed gunmen. Jon and Jeremy are also reserve officers with the Barberton Police Department. More about that in a bit.
So, for several weeks there were four Travises in the building.
To hear Judy Myers tell it, that’s a fairly common occurrence — albeit most of the time unofficial: “I have never known a teacher quite like Sandy. She committed her life to raising her own four children and seeing each of them to school age, before pursuing her career in teaching. Her passion and commitment to students is remarkable. She can often be found working in her classroom until after dark.” Family members would often come to help out in her classroom, to join her for dinner or to watch basketball games.
That deep-seated passion for helping children achieve their dreams is shared by Jon and Jeremy as well.
“Every student is different, each with his or her own personal needs,” Jon said. “The key is finding that hook to help that kid be successful. That comes from talking one on one.”
Jeremy agrees, adding yet another vital element: “You have to have patience. And you can’t jump to conclusions because there are always two sides to the story. … Sometimes it just means going to sporting events and sitting among the students.”
Undoubtedly that philosophy also is shared by their sister, Janee Oktela, a third-grade teacher in Wadsworth schools who just days ago presented Sandy and Homer with their seventh grandchild.
The oldest brother, Jeff Travis — who I suspect could be considered the maverick — took a different career path. He’s a financial analyst in Beachwood, and his family of educators couldn’t be more proud.
The Travis family did just about everything together over the years. The boys, when they were little, often accompanied Dad on hilarious and harrowing sojourns as a wrestling coach, and have lots of stories about those escapades that their mom had not heard before this week.
Born on the Fourth of July, the twins created lots of fireworks inside and outside their home, including spates of broken bones, mostly due to stunts. It seems as soon as one was being patched up or stitched up, the other was being wheeled into the emergency department. One would have a cast on his right wrist while the other had one on his left. In other words, there was never, ever a dull moment in the Travis household.
“Our house was where all of the other kids gathered,” Sandy took pride in saying.
“Yeah, we had the Kool-Aid house,” her husband chimed in.
“We always stayed home because nobody else wanted two extra kids in their house,” Jon said in yet another explanation.
The twins played all manner of sports in school over the years, and still share an abundance of interests and tastes, including water skiing, biking and history (specifically the Civil War). “Sometimes they will show up at the house — separately — and they’ll be dressed exactly alike,” Homer Travis marveled, admitting, “I still can’t tell them apart from the back.”
Neither likes tomatoes. But ketchup, well, they’ve managed to put that in a different, more palate-pleasing category.
While theirs was a “fun” house, it also was where they learned the value of hard work. They toiled alongside their dad, painting houses — inside and outside — and had a lawn care business too, earning extra money for school.
Asked if either is interested in pursuing full-time careers in law enforcement, Jon and Jeremy — graduates of the University of Akron (like their parents) with masters in administration degrees from Kent State University — predictably had the same answer. “No. Our first love is teaching.”
Still, law enforcement has long been a dream of theirs, so they enrolled in the police academy “because we didn’t want to live a ‘What if?’ life,” Jeremy said.
As fate would have it, their dad — who has done painting work on the side for as long as he can remember — happened to be painting the new police academy on the day his sons were required to be hit by a stun gun. “They went right straight down,” Homer recalled. “It was pretty scary to watch!”
What continues to bring abundant joy to Sandy and Homer Travis is that their “reach one, teach one” legacy is still all in the family.
“I’m very proud of them and I’m also very proud of our Barberton schools, which sometimes get a bum rap,” Sandy said.
When it comes to the Travises’ unquestionable loyalty to Barberton City Schools and its students, they all bleed purple.
Jewell Cardwell can be reached at 330-996-3567 or firstname.lastname@example.org