As a girl I was considered a nontraditional student in Mr. Peckham’s freshmen mechanical drawing class, in fact, I was a nontraditional student in machine drafting, engineer drafting and when Brian and I talked him into architectural drafting I was the only girl in that class, too. Mr. Peckham went to school everyday to teach, he didn’t put up with any crap; horsing around put him over the edge. Without breaking his stride I saw him dispatch a boy who couldn’t or wouldn’t settle down, from the classroom – he tossed the boy through the doorway in one smooth move that didn’t interrupt his lesson. Mr. Peckham represented Air Force and we learned that you didn’t mess with the Force (Mr. Peckham was Jedi before Star Wars was even thought of).
Mr. Peckham didn’t coddle me, he taught skill and if you didn’t get a concept he’d spend extra time bringing everyone up to speed. I had a slight advantage over my classmates in that my art background allowed me to visualize front-top-side and rotate objects in my mind much like modern CAD applications do today. I was a fix-it type of girl, I had mechanical abilities that I didn’t even know the origins of. What I didn’t have was any experience with breaking down small motors or tinkering with what makes things go like a majority of my male classmates. I lacked hands-on application which sometimes felt like drawing in the dark. But even though I drew parts that I didn’t know anything about, Mr. Peckham opened my world with cams, rotors, pistons, roof pitch, and mathematical formulas that enhanced my geometry and trigonometry classes. Exploded drawings blew my mind; I drew on velum as soft as a baby’s bottom with Indian ink and scored green freshman paper with my super sharp 4H pencil. I could lay out a drawing with my drafting machine faster and more accurate than just about any of the senior boys in the room; Brian and I were legends to incoming freshman due to Mr. Peckham’s fondness for our drafting prowess. Mr. Peckham demanded clean erasures, bold sharp lines, defined hidden lines – our drawings were poetry in motion. Without knowing it we were learning the rules of life in his class: punctuality, tenacity, imagination; competition honed our skills and fostered life-long friendships.
Here is to Mr. Peckham – a man who quietly influenced many Champlain Valley students, he will live on in classroom stories recounted at get-togethers and in our career experiences. I did not go on to study engineering in college, instead I chose teaching but when I graduated, art jobs weren’t available – I fell back on my drafting skills which kept me steadily employed during my first career: Kitchen & Bath Design, Blachly Boat & Ship Design, Morse Twist Drill Company, Chamberlain Manufacturing Corporation, Silva’s Architectural Services – I revised ink drawings that were drawn with quill pen on onion-skin velum dating from the turn of the century, sighted down plastic splines to get the perfect curve of a boat’s hull, drew process drawings that defined whole production lines in a defense plant, engineered improvements to my paint and packing line, managed a CAD department. Mr. Peckham was behind each and every line I drew, each and every job I completed, every quality decision I made concerning readability and responsibility. Once a draftsperson, always a draftsperson.
Thank you Mr. Peckham for believing in me because man, oh man, I believed in you. I learned my teaching chops in your classroom; your timing, your patience, quiet assurance, nod of success. You were the consummate teacher, a true professional. You helped mold my life, you championed hard work and dedication, a neat appearance and guts – and for this you will forever live on in my, and others collective memories – here’s to you, old salt. Thank you, dear teacher – rest in peace.
My school assistant principal offered the following as a condolence: The mediocre teacher tells. The good teacher explains. The superior teacher demonstrates. The great teacher inspires. Mr. Peckham was a great teacher.