Taking history to West Virginia’s students

SLANESVILLE – This year has begun with a goal-driven Ken Hechler on a mission. I have set a goal of visiting 50 schools, colleges and universities this year. When I mentioned this to a friend of mine, I was told, “Do you realize that’s an average of one school a week if you take off a week for Thanksgiving and Christmas?”

I may not be the world’s greatest mathematician, and I may be 99, but I can still do simple math. My wife and I are setting up the “Ken Hechler 2014 School Tour,” as she likes to call it, by areas. I figure if I do a couple or three a week, I can have that goal wiped out in no time.

Many of you may think I’m crazy also. People have commented that at my age and with all I have done and accomplished in my nearly 100 years, I should sit back, relax and enjoy retirement. What is not realized is that I have, in one way or another, been a teacher my whole adult life. I’ve always considered my teaching career to be the most important of all of my many other accomplishments and positions. When I look back at my life, I see many years of history of which I was a part. I believe it is my responsibility, as well as my desire, to share this history with others.

If I wait, it may be too late.

How many people do you know who have first-hand knowledge and/or participated in many of the major events of the last century? I was a combat historian in World War II. I was responsible for preserving history, as well as living it. I interrogated Herman Goering, Hitler’s second in command, as well as other top Nazi officials.

I worked for President Franklin Roosevelt, President Harry Truman and briefly for President Dwight Eisenhower. In my 18 years as U.S. Congressman, I marched with Martin Luther King in Selma, Ala., and was the only member of Congress to do so.

During that time, I also helped draft safety legislation in the Federal Coal Mine Health and Safety Act of 1969.  While serving on the Committee on Science and Astronautics, several other committee members and I inspected the remains of the Jan. 27, 1967, Apollo I disaster. I was Secretary of State of West Virginia for 16 years. During this time I continued my fight on environmental issues such as mountaintop removal mining and marched with Granny D for campaign finance reform.

I am telling you these things in hopes of someone out there at some school will say “Hey, let’s get Ken Hechler to come share some history with us!” I know that I will not live forever. No one does. But until that day comes, I long to continue my teaching through sharing my knowledge with students or anyone else who will listen. It not only gives me satisfaction but also a sense of accomplishment that I have done my best to fulfill the lifelong duties of Ken Hechler, the teacher.

If anyone would like me to come speak to your class or school, you may email me at kenhechler@gmail.com or call me at 304-492-5046.

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