There are legendary teachers. But substitute teachers? Generally not so much.
Among substitute teachers, there was one legend, first in Charlotte and then in Fort Mill schools. A legend at 5 feet 4 inches tall, about 125 pounds.
And his name was Jerry Vawter. Dr. Vawter. He worked as a sub well into his 90s, and he regaled students with real-life tales of World War II and growing up so poor a turnip was good eating. And so much more.
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Jerry Vawter died late Monday at 95.
Generations of Fort Mill students and staff lost a part of their lives with his passing. Students for years would gather around him, bring him treats, listen to him talk. He never said no. For 22 years, he was “The Sub.”
“Dr. Vawter was an amazing man, a person who captivated students,” said Keith Griffin, the only principal Fort Mill’s Springfield Middle School has ever had. “The man was incredible.”
Students who had Dr. Vawter for a sub and teachers who worked with him will never forget him. He wore a coat and tie. His clothes were so creased you could cut a hand on the pleats. His shoes shone with polish.
But more, he was a walker. When not in class – and this man taught, he was no babysitter – he walked around the school building. He walked and walked.
He took time for every student he met.
For so many years he woke up before dawn, got dressed, drank coffee and waited for the phone call that would send him to a school. He loved it all.
“The students keep me young,” Vawter said in 2008.
Vawter had four degrees. He was a teacher and doctor of law and so much more in an incredible life before substitute teaching. He vowed to quit subbing at age 90 and sailed past that date like a destroyer in the Pacific.
He subbed almost to age 92.
Vawter would tell students all about being in war and being poor, and that each of them could be great as any man or woman anywhere, if they would just do their best.
Jerry Vawter was proof of it.