Tim Wellman was taking geometry at Palmyra R-1 High School when the COVID-19 pandemic hit and schools abruptly switched to remote learning.
Mr. Wellman detested geometric proofs, especially learning over Zoom how to do them.
“Yet, somehow, despite my deep hatred for the concept, I learned to get good at them, be quick with and actually LIKE them,” said Mr. Wellman, a member of St. Joseph Parish in Palmyra.
He didn’t just wake up one day with that appreciation.
Rather, “I had a fantastic teacher who, despite having to teach to an empty classroom over a computer screen, put in the effort every single day to try and help us learn,” he said.
“That’s what I believe makes for the perfect example of what an educator should be within a school setting.”
Mr. Wellman’s teacher was Deacon Luke Mahsman, whom the Palmyra Chamber of Commerce recently honored with its Educator of the Year award.
Deacon Mahsman has been a teacher and FFA advisor at Palmyra High School for 21 years.
Ordained a permanent deacon in 2019, he also assists the pastor of St. Joseph Parish in his hometown.
“To educate someone does not mean to simply lecture in the classroom,” Mr. Wellman stated in his remarks at the Chamber’s award banquet on Jan. 11.
“Rather, it requires a certain set of character traits, qualities and attributes that are evident in all arenas of one’s life,” he noted.
Mr. Wellman commented on Deacon Mahsman’s teaching acumen in the classroom, at church and at home.
Deacon Mahsman holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees in agricultural education from the University of Missouri, as well as a master of theological studies from Ave Maria University in Florida.
He and his family live and work on a farm, raising row crops and beef cattle.
In his longtime role as an agriculture teacher and FFA advisor, Deacon Mahsman “trained more contest teams to qualify for state than nearly any other advisor has trained,” said Mr. Wellman.
Of the more than 50 FFA teams he coached that went on to state competition, 14 took home top-three placement, eight won state, and of the seven that were able to compete nationally, all placed seventh or higher.
“In fact, two of them, including the one that I was a part of, got second in the nation,” Mr. Wellman noted.
He said this level of success couldn’t have been achieved without Deacon Mahsman’s talent, knowledge and commitment.
“This is someone who dedicated significant portions of time to teaching teenagers complex math about economic topics we barely understood, and he did it well enough to beat out almost every other state in the nation multiple times,” said Mr. Wellman.
He also spoke of the spiritual guidance Deacon Mahsman had given him on his journey back to full participation in the Catholic faith.
“As a child and up through most of my teens, religion was all but absent from my life,” said Mr. Wellman. “For much of that time, I was a Christmas and Easter Mass kind of guy — and eventually, even that was sparse.”
But right after his sophomore year in high school, Mr. Wellman felt driven to reconnect with his faith.
“I still don’t know what made me do so, but I couldn’t be more thankful that it happened,” he said.
Deacon Mahsman agreed to give Mr. Wellman instructions to help him prepare for the Sacrament of Confirmation.
For the next year, Mr. Wellman woke up at 8 a.m. every Sunday, drove himself to the parish hall and spent an hour and 15 minutes with Deacon Mahsman, “learning about Jesus, the Sacraments, and the Catholic Church.”
“As time went on, he taught me a lot about religion,” said Mr. Wellman, “but I contend that he taught me even more about myself — about who I was and my place in the world.”
Now, Mr. Wellman never fails to observe a Sunday or holyday of obligation.
“I owe that revival of my faith in a very large part to this individual,” Mr. Wellman said of his former teacher.
Deacon Mahsman also makes himself available to talk whenever Mr. Wellman has a question about his faith or Church teaching.
“To say that I’m indebted to this man for teaching me God’s lessons is an understatement, and I do my best to pay it back every day in the way I approach the world,” Mr. Wellman said.
Regarding Deacon Mahsman’s and his wife, Christie’s, role as the primary educators of their own children, Mr. Wellman sought testimony from the oldest three of their nine.
He asked them, “What’s the greatest lesson your father has ever taught you?”
“He taught me the difference between right and wrong,” one of them stated. “He’s a great moral compass and I would trust that whatever he tells me is correct.”
Another responded: “Dad taught the importance of being dependable, even when he has a lot going on, if he says he’ll do something, he keeps his word, and he’s shown me the value of being someone people can rely on.”
Another stated: “I’ve learned from him that when you work for the people you care about, you should enjoy even the difficult or frustrating parts that can arise.”
For Deacon Mahsman, teaching is a calling from God.
He stated prior to his ordination in 2019 that he hoped to teach, by word and deed, “those things that help us draw closer to God and live joy-filled lives as faithful Catholics.”
“There is a great joy that comes with living a life in Christ and his Church,” he said.