Issue #106 : Marvelous Mr. Deen

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Marvelous Mr. Deen

Hollywood will soon produce a movie about my favorite high school teacher — actually, my favorite teacher — Mr. Stan Deen.

The movie, “Brave the Dark,” will star Jared Harris in the title role.

I really don’t trust Hollywood to do justice to this remarkable icon of eastern Lancaster County, Pennsylvania.

The high school I was graduated from, Garden Spot, is nestled in beautiful, Austrian-like farm country beyond the western suburbs of Philadelphia. But at one time, long ago, somebody had the good sense to bring California to Lancaster County.

That is, in the form of Stan Deen.

I can’t tell you how many times I looked forward to going to a Mr. Deen class, whether it was American Literature, English Literature or speech. He taught me all of those.I remember his quotes on the blackboard as you entered the class. They were classics, from the “moving to the sound of a different drummer” by Henry David Thoreau to the axiom about happiness being not a possession, but a state of mind, by Daphne du Maurier. I can still see the quotes in my head.

For years I kept a copy of “Mr. Deen’s Top 100 Books” that he passed out in class one day. “Everyone should read these 100 books in their lifetime,” I remember Mr. Deen saying. I always referred to it as the Deen’s List. I would check each of them off as I read them. Before I finished college, I read them all.

I was always impressed with Mr. Deen’s compelling, engaging personality. He was extremely passionate about good literature and had a fervor that was beyond anything I have seen.

When you walked past his class, kids were laughing out loud. Mr. Deen was a fantastic, Robin Williams-like standup comedian. I saw him perform numerous times. My chest hurt so much from laughing. He was fantastic.

There was another teacher in that school that embodied the polar opposite of Mr. Deen: you could tell he couldn’t care less about what he was teaching, he was bored with the way he presented it and was the singular most uninteresting teacher at Garden Spot. I won’t name him. He was the worst teacher I ever had. I had him for one year and that was absolutely too long.

But it gave me perspective about a teacher who engaged and motivated students, a leader with personality and wit and someone who genuinely cared: Mr. Deen.

Mr. Deen passed away a few years back. The school named an auditorium, with a catwalk, after him. I think they should rename Garden Spot “Stan Deen High School.” Because I learned to love reading, music, playwriting and performance arts and even radio, where I was a guest speaker. What is life itself, if not those things?

Mr. Deen: A marvelous, marvelous man.

I was so fortunate to be his student.