People who influenced us — for the better

We will meet, before we’re done on this Earth, thousands of people.

Some we will never think of again, their names forgotten as soon as they were said.

Others we will never forget. We can’t. They touched us, influenced us, affected us, changed us. They took time for us. They welcomed us, encouraged us and loved us.

We didn’t always know it or recognize it at the time. But later, those who invested in us become part of us in mind, spirit and soul. When we think of them, we smile. They made us feel good about ourselves, feel better about this world and our role in it.

Some of The Garden Island staff are sharing stories of people who most influenced their lives. If you would like to share your story with TGI and its readers, please email it to

Uncle in Montana

One such person in my life was Frank Urick, my uncle. For many summers, when I was a young man and our five children were still children, we would pile into the old Country Sedan, nine-passenger station wagon and drive the 365 miles from our home in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, to his ranch in the Highwood Mountains of Belt, Montana. He and his wife, Vivian, always greeted us with hugs and smiles and laughter. They welcomed the seven of us into their home for stays that sometimes lasted a week.

Frank Urick was not a wealthy man in terms of money and finances. But he was a rich man when it came to family and love. He treated those who entered his home like they mattered. And they did.

I will always treasure the hours of conversation we had as we drove in his pickup truck as he headed to shoe horses, which he did to earn extra money. He shared his life with me.

Whether we were coming or going, Uncle Frank would stop in to visit folks. Just to chat. Have a beer. See how things were going. He seemed to know everyone. Not too long, because we had to be home for dinner and he did not show up late for dinner.

He read the Bible each morning, worked hard, took care of his family and treated his wife with love and respect.

But what stood out about this man that I so admired was I never heard him speak a critical word about anyone. He did not gossip. He did not make note of negatives or point out failures. He saw the best in people. He saw the good. If he saw the bad, he didn’t tell me about it.

Frank Urick didn’t talk about joy and peace and love and faith. He lived it.

— Bill Buley

English teacher

No matter where you go, there’s a story of a teacher who took an invested interest in a student, and their guidance helped shape that student’s life. I am no different.

When I was in 10th grade, I signed up for honors English with Regina Tomlin. I heard she was strict. That coupled with an expansive reading list made me a tad nervous when I walked into her room the first day of class.

Turns out, I didn’t need to worry. Yes, she was strict. And yes, she demanded a lot from her students. But to be fair, it was a higher-level class. She pushed me to delve deeper into novels, to look for complex themes. She challenged me to draw connections to plays like “Antigone” and“The Crucible,” to the real world. She gave me an appreciation for writers like Edgar Allan Poe and F. Scott Fitzgerald, both of whom I’m not a fan. She introduced me to Tennessee Williams, Kate Chopin and Arthur Miller.

But most of all, she pushed me to be a better writer. I can’t tell you how many times she made my research paper drafts bleed. But by the time I took advanced placement English, my teacher made the comment, “I get the feeling you like to write research papers.” That’s true.

Mrs. Tomlin understood me as a person. She became a confidant when I lost a friendship and when I thought I was going to fail an honors chemistry class. (I didn’t, but it was my first-ever C). We also shared a love for “Dancing with the Stars” and “Harry Potter.”

— Jenna Carpenter

English teacher

It’s easy to forget sometimes how far you’ve come in life, which makes it easy to forget how many people have helped you get where you are today. Picking just one person who has impacted me and inspired me to pursue my passion as a journalist is nearly impossible. But if I had to pick one, it would be Kalea Rogers, my advanced placement English and literature teacher in high school.

Not only was Ms. Rogers the best teacher I’ve ever had, she was also one of the most helpful instructors anyone could have. She made me the writer I am today and gave me the confidence and direction I needed as I prepared to graduate Kapolei High School on Oahu.

She asked me once what I wanted to do when after college, so I told you her I wanted to become a journalist. She replied “Well, that’s good. You talk all the time anyway, so you might as well get paid for it.”

Ms. Rogers knew how to teach students, but she also knew how to listen. And that made all the difference in the world.

— David McCracken

Yoga instructor

A lesson about butterflies is one way Diana Christinson at Pacific Ashtanga Yoga Shala in southern California forever changed my life. Caterpillars, you see, spend their days eating and climbing until they reach that shivering little leaf at the end of a branch. Then they retreat into a cocoon.

They literally turn into goo inside that little wrapper and reconstitute themselves into an entirely different animal — or perhaps, better put, the same animal in a different form.

I’d expect the caterpillar would think life is over when its body is disintegrating. Maybe it hurts. Perhaps at that moment, reason would advise avoidance of the cocoon for self-preservation. But if the caterpillar never melts, it’ll never be a butterfly.

Diana taught me about the importance of balance in all things during my time at the yoga school. Of course, Ashtanga yoga was the center of my study, but with it came lessons on dedication, devotion and determination. I gained rich bits of knowledge from the wise people at the shala — more than I can detail in a few short sentences and I am forever grateful.

There are butterflies that live in a bush just across from The Garden Island’s office. I like to take a walk past them during my breaks and I always think of Diana’s teaching: When you turn to goo, it’s an opportunity to grow into something magical.

— Jessica Else

Choir teacher

To list several people who have had positive influences in my life is easy. To name just one who has done so the most, the word “impossible” doesn’t begin to describe how difficult that would be.

I can, however, say who have been the most influential in certain phases of my life. For this, I will go with the person who taught me perhaps the most important lesson during a time it could have been the most difficult to teach and I believe is still relevant today — my high school choir teacher Paul Hawkins.

I loved that choir class. I took that elective course for four years without regret. It’s one of the fondest memories from high school that I have. We were an eclectic class with a broad range of interests.

Aside from the music lessons though, his class proved that everyone can get along no matter what walks of life we all come from. Race, religion, sexual orientation, social class, whatever that can divide us, they didn’t exist in that old music room.

This lesson about getting along, how did he teach it well and maybe unintentionally? He’s gay. During a time when homosexuality was as controversial a topic it’s ever been and “That’s gay” was an accepted vernacular to express one’s displeasure or disinterest, he showed us that that didn’t matter.

To us, he was just our music teacher — and a good one at that.

— Nick Celario


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