When I first walked in the room I noticed that Mark, the man I was interviewing, was in a wheel chair. His neck was leaning forward, his eyes full of sorrow, and his hands looked as if they were in pain, all crinkled up and moving in a very unnatural way. Honestly, I thought he was not in his right state of mind. But soon I found out what had caused his strange manner. I sat down right next to him and began to ask a series of very personal and emotional questions. Mark had a very interesting life, not an easy life, but he did cherish his special moments with very many special people in his life. When Mark was a little boy, he remembers walking down to the a baseball field about 3 miles from his school every day. He knew he wasn’t the best kid on the team, but he still went everyday and had a blast playing with his friends. Mark had 2 older brothers. His closest brother, Tom got in the printing business at the age of only 18. Marks favorite memory with Tom was getting to go to the local auctions every Saturday to find printing equipment. Tom would give Mark 50 cents for carrying his equipment home after the auction was over. When asked about an embarrassing moment Mark hesitated and slowly stated, “in one sense one doesn’t think about embarrassing moments as an adult, but as a teenager you are very easily embarrassed”.
Mark’s story was when he was in High school, and he got sick in the hallway. He couldn’t make it to the bathroom so he threw up on another student. That really made me start to think and it is actually true, teenagers get embarrassed at everything. I started to think why and I believe it is, because as a teenager our image means the most to us, adults are more mature then us and understand that our image and appearance aren’t everything. Biggest regret was during the year the Hunt Brothers were buying up the silver market. He found a set of sterling silver table wear at a thrift store for about 50 cents each and bought 3 pieces from a set. He found out the next day that he could sell each piece for 5 dollars. He hurried back to get the rest of the set but someone had already bought every last piece. He said he was so upset that he felt sick. His point was “when you have an opportunity to make some money and you don’t take advantage of it, you might end up regretting it after”. Mark was a very hardworking intelligent man. He graduated in the top 10 of his class of 350.
Mark went to Rice, and later on to TCU, with full rides to both. Mark’s most cherished memory of college was the 1954 Cotton Bowl game between Rice and Alabama. He told me his favorite part was when one of the Alabama players ran over to the Rice side and tackled one of the players right in front of him. In 1960, things were a lot different then they are now. As a math teacher, he said you could teach at almost anywhere you wanted to teach. Mark applied at 3 institutions, and had an offer to teach at all 3. Mark married a teacher and they decided to stay in Arlington and both teach at UTA. Their parents lived in Fort Worth and they didn’t want to leave them. He worked at UTA for 40 years before retiring. Mark and his wife were married for 36 years. She contacted Lou Gehrig’s Disease and only lived 2 years with the disease before she passed away. Mark told me that Lou Gahrig’s Disease is a disease that you do not want to watch someone have, it is a very sad disease.
She lost her ability to talk, was totally helpless, but her mind was still fully active. She could only communicate with her eyes. He told me that during those 2 years, he would go to work…and cry. Go home…and cry. But he never cried in front of her. He said, as he began to tear up, “that he would just go in his room and cry. He did the best he could for her. In 1978, Mark was diagnosed with cancer, but not just any cancer, he had ependynoma. Only about 10 people in the United States get that disease each year, very few live through it. He went into intensive care for a week, and he can remember the doctor telling his wife that if he lives through the week, he has a chance to live. Because the cancer was in his spinal cord, and the doctor could not get all the cancer out. So, Mark had to go under radiation. As a result of the radiation, there is always damage around the surrounding area. Mark’s vertebrae crushed due to the radiation and he had to go in for an immediate fusion. In 2001, as a result of the fusion, it got so bad that his neck started making an L shape and cut everything off from his spinal cord. His doctor never had to do a surgery like that before.
He put a plate in the front and the back of Mark’s neck all in the same surgery. As a result, Mark became impaired, put in a wheelchair, and he never walked again. The best advice anyone had ever given to Mark was when he was in the 9th grade. His counselor was a very nice lady he said. She told him, “that even though you come from the wrong side of the tracks and don’t really know much about college, Mark, you can do whatever you set your mind to do. And I found that to be really true, people can really do whatever they set their minds to, within their abilities. Too many students now days don’t realize what abilities they’ve got”. The answer that really got to me was when I asked Mark, “have any of your kids ever disappointed you”?
He answered, “everyone may have times of disappointments, but in the end, when you look back at all the wonderful memories you share with your family, there isn’t even a trace of disappointment”. Mark is truly a survivor, a husband, and most importantly a brave man. He has had to face many challenges in his life and has overcome every one of them. He has opened my eyes to the importance of getting an education. The loss of his wife has really made me appreciate the people I love and cherish; because you never know when they will be gone. I have made a new friend, gained a lot of life lessons, and I will never forget this wonderful experience I got to have knowing Mark.