From Teachers To Trash Collectors, This Is The Week To Tell Them “Thank You!”

The first thing I admired about Ed Shevlin was his hefty right forearm, all tatted up with the most magnificent portrait of Saint Patrick, Celtic knots and a proud declaration of the Irish word “Saoirse,” which means “freedom.”

To someone whose right forearm is tatted out with shamrocks and Celtic swirls — but just on Halloween and Saint Patrick’s Day — this love of our shared ancestry brings new meaning to wearing your heart on your sleeve.

But the more important thing about Mr. Shevlin is what he’s accomplished, both during and after his career in public service. Not long ago, this husky, cigar-smoking man was a New York City sanitation worker who spoke Gaelic to the locals as he hauled away their trash along his route in the Rockaways in Queens. In his down time, he participated in Irish-American cultural events, worked toward a bachelor’s degree in Irish studies, and studied Irish, both at home and abroad. Now that he’s retired, he’s pursing a graduate degree in Irish and Irish-American studies, and he’s writing about an Irish republican from the Rockaways who fought for Irish independence in the 1916 Easter Rising. No wonder the New York Times chose to profile him first in 2011 (complete with a must-see video) and again this past March.

It’s time to pay tribute to people like Mr. Shevlin who have chosen to spend their careers serving the public. Welcome to the first day of Public Service Recognition Week, the annual celebration during the first week of May that honors federal, state, county and local government employees.

For those of us who help to provide public employees with a secure retirement, celebrating public service is something we do every day. But in 2000, the State Teachers Retirement System of Ohio developed some special ways to honor Ohio’s public educators that continue to have meaning today.

To celebrate its 80th anniversary that year, STRS developed Discovery Park, an area at its headquarters that stretches alongside South 5th Street, between East Broad and East Oak Streets.STRS Discovery Park

Water features and an abundance of gingko trees make Discovery Park a very pleasant place to visit, especially during a lunch hour on a beautiful day — once the fountains are turned on for the season.

DSCN3183

The park’s most recognizable feature is its “Journey to Learning” statue. Sculpted by George Danhires, an STRS member, the statue celebrates the relationship between students and their teachers. The wall, blocks, numbers and letters incorporated into the piece stand for the challenges children face as they develop an understanding of the fundamental concepts of learning. Students are depicted accepting the challenges that come with learning, with teachers standing by to help and encourage them in their educational journey.Journey to Learning

Look around and there’s plenty to see, but what really matters lies under your feet. Take a closer look at the bricks on the ground and you’ll see that they’re inscribed with the names of thousands of former and current STRS members who have served the public by helping others discover the joy and the value of learning. The brick contributed by my mother, Suzanne Heinmiller Butler, a Columbus Public Schools Kindergarten teacher for 40 years, is located in section D of the park.

STRS Discovery Park

The park was dedicated on August 27, 2000.  Here’s my mother posing with her brick at the dedication.Suzanne Heinmiller Butler with her brick at STRS Discovery Park,, August 27, 2000

Two more Downtown features celebrate the value of public service through teaching. For its 75th anniversary, STRS members and retirees commissioned two bronze bas-relief statues in the Map Room of the Ohio Statehouse. Both reliefs were created by George Danhires of Kent, Ohio, and dedicated in November 1995.

One relief depicts a teacher reading with her students in a one-room schoolhouse. Spencerian script, a copy of Ray’s Arithmetic and a McGuffey Reader, all products of Ohio, are in the background. A list of presidents from Ohio appears on the chalkboard.

Bas relief at Ohio StatehouseThe other portrays a modern classroom scene in which students receive instruction in social studies. A teacher in the background signs the words “to learn” in recognition of the nation’s first state school for the deaf founded in Ohio in 1829. The background celebrates the achievements of Ohioans, including astronauts Neil Armstrong, from Wapakoneta, and John Glenn, from New Concord, as well as Dayton aviators Orville and Wilbur Wright.

Bas relief at Ohio Statehouse

Public Service Recognition Week officially ends on May 7, but there’s no expiration date for showing your appreciation of the public servants you know.

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