Veteran John Glenn was known by most Americans and indeed was internationally famous. Most Americans also know that Glenn died in December at age 95.
A distinguished citizen who was a retired Marine colonel, former NASA astronaut and past U.S. senator, he was perhaps best-known for his space flights. Part of the first group of astronauts singled out by the nation’s space program, he was the first American to orbit Earth, circling it three times. Later in life, while still a senator, he returned to space at age 77 to study the effects of flying in orbit on the aged.
As a member of the military, he entered the Naval Aviation Cadet Program in 1942 and was commissioned in 1943. He flew 59 combat missions during World War II and later flew 63 missions in Korea. He is credited with shooting down three MiGs in combat along the Yalu River.
But little-known is his distant brush with Boulder City fame.
In August 1999, Garrett Junior High School orchestra teacher Adam Schultheis was named an honoree by the Disney American Teacher Awards. One of 39 teachers nationwide chosen from thousands of nominees, Schultheis said at the time that he used the old-fashioned method of simply presenting musical material to his students and then adding a lot of heart.
He said teaching orchestra “is not a dog-and-pony show” and he “doesn’t do song and dance” when it comes to his teaching methods. What’s more, he added that it was “really nice to get recognition,” but he thought there were “a lot of teachers out there … that are good teachers … who just don’t get the recognition.”
The awards ceremony, held in Hollywood, was set for November of that year. As the time grew closer, I learned that Glenn was going to be a speaker at the event. Then editor of the now-defunct Boulder City News, I wanted to report firsthand on Glenn, Schultheis and his experience. I applied to Disney for media credentials and later learned that of all the nominees’ geographic areas from around the nation, Boulder City was the only out-of-state town to send a reporter to cover its local teacher.
I showed up at the historic Pantages Theater and took my place among other reporters, all of whom were from Southern California. We were directed to the media room, where speakers and award winners were sent to be interviewed and photographed throughout the evening if they so desired. Most didn’t. They preferred to stay in the auditorium and watch the event firsthand.
Anticipating the situation, I had an advance plan worked out with Schultheis in order to photograph him. Win or lose, I asked him to stay in his seat when the ceremony was over, and I would come to him to take his picture on the stage with an oversized Disney American Teacher logo looming as a backdrop.
Schultheis was not named Teacher of the Year, but it was still a major story for Boulder City, and he stayed in place while patiently waiting for me.
What I had not expected was that as I attempted to make my way to his seat, I had to fight my way through the thousands of audience members who were headed out of the theater. It took me quite some time to muscle my way in with camera in hand, but it was well worth it from a news perspective. I was able to shoot several photos of the educator on stage.
Then it was time for Part Two of our plan. Glenn was in a celebrities room upstairs in the building, and I asked Schultheis to follow me there to take his photo with the famed astronaut and Marine veteran.
When we arrived via escalator, Glenn was in the hallway with his wife, talking with someone. I approached him and politely asked if I could take his picture with Schultheis, who was standing next to me. But Glenn’s wife had other plans. Apparently they had to meet with officials downstairs, and she shook her head “no” as she grabbed her husband’s hand and headed to the escalator.
I was momentarily stunned. But I was in no mood to let that opportunity slip away from me. I instructed Schultheis to follow me to the stairway that was situated next to the escalator. We ran down to the bottom, arriving ahead of Glenn and his wife, and I advised Schultheis, “When Glenn steps off the escalator, put out your hand to shake his, and offer congratulations.” And that’s exactly what happened.
Unaware of the “ambush,” Glenn stepped off the escalator and automatically shook Schultheis’ waiting hand while I clicked the shutter. As a result, that photo appeared on Page One next to another photo that I had taken earlier of the teacher standing on the Disney stage. Accompanying the story were two other photos of mine from that evening, one with Schultheis and Disney company Chairman Michael Eisner and another with Schultheis and his wife, Cynthia, in front of the Pantages Theater with the overhead marquee reading “Disney’s American Teacher Awards.”
Schultheis continued his teaching career at Garrett and also taught orchestra at Boulder City High School. Today, many former students have a deep appreciation for music thanks to the teacher who put his heart into his instruction methods.
Chuck N. Baker is a Purple Heart veteran of the Vietnam War and the host of “That’s America to Me” every Sunday at 7 a.m. on 97.1 FM.