Susan Johnson had what could have been a traumatic experience as a youngster, until a Dixon elementary school principal saved the day.
Johnson, whose maiden name is Taylor, was a kindergartner at the former Lincoln School in the late 1960s. Her class had a fundraiser, she raised the most money and was to receive a prize for her efforts. She was called to the principal’s office, where Larry Taylor presented her with a trophy for being the top salesperson.
“I was so proud of it, but one of my classmates made fun of me and said, ‘You just got that award because your dad is the principal,'" Johnson said. “We weren’t related. We just had the same last name. I, of course, started crying when I got home and told my mom about it.
“Mom marched me back to the school so we could talk to the principal. She was really mad. I had worked really hard to have that accomplishment. Larry made my mom feel like she was a superstar. He made me feel like a superstar. I remember going back into school and whoever was picking on me or teasing me, I was like, ‘Hey, I’m somebody special and you can’t take this award away from me.’ That’s how he made me feel every time I saw him. He always made me feel like I was the best.”
Larry Taylor died on Sept. 10 at the age of 83. He moved to Dixon in 1960 and served Dixon Public Schools for more than 40 years. Twenty-six of those years were at Lincoln Elementary School, where he had a profound effect on his students, none more than Johnson.
She was a student, a teacher and a principal at Lincoln Elementary School, and Taylor was never far from her side.
“Every time Larry would see me, he would be so proud of me for the accomplishments that I did,” Johnson said. “When I talked to other people about Larry, they felt the same way. He made you feel like you were something, always. It didn’t matter if you were a student. It didn’t matter if you were a teacher. It didn’t matter if you were a principal. He always made you feel really good about yourself.”
Taylor spent part of his career working with special education students. That was Johnson’s area of teaching as well, and they had a kinship.
“He knew that the kids I was working with were really tough kids,” Johnson said. “A lot of the parents didn’t know how to handle the behaviors of a lot of our students. He just kept reminding me the kids weren’t trying to give me a hard time, the kids were having a hard time. Again, he just had a way about him, always making you feel like whatever hurdles you had to come across, you were going to be able to overcome it and you were going to be able to help people.”
Later in Johnson’s career, she served as principal at Reagan and Jefferson schools in Dixon, and finally, at Lincoln. Taylor would occasionally stop by.
“I never knew at the beginning why he was coming – if he was coming because he was concerned about the way I was running things or whatever,” Johnson said. “He would walk in the door and the minute he got there you knew this was just a friendly chat. He was coming just to say, ‘Whatever’s coming your way, you can handle it. You’re a smart gal and you can work your way through any of it.'“
Like Johnson, Jan Jennings was a special education teacher in Dixon and was impacted by Taylor.
"I was so fortunate to have worked with Mr. Taylor at Lincoln School and Grand Detour School," said Jennings, who now resides in Florida. "As a special education teacher at Lincoln, his support and willingness to listen to new ideas in the field was so appreciated. Including these students in regular education classrooms and co-teaching took extra work and time to schedule, but Mr. Taylor saw the importance of this delivery model. He was well respected by students and staff. We all found him to be fair, consistent and respectful."
As Jennings moved up the professional ladder, she was again aided by Taylor.
"He became my mentor as I moved from the classroom to administration," Jennings said. "When Grand Detour reopened as a 6th grade attendance center, Mr. Taylor, Mrs. Semetis and I teamed up to make the move. As a first-year administrator, it can be overwhelming, but working side by side with those two professionals got me off to a great start.
"Upon Mr. Taylor's retirement, I felt confident in my role as administrator because of the mentoring and leadership both he and Mrs. Semetis had provided. I credit my success to this great role model."
Another former teacher who was impacted by Taylor at Lincoln Elementary School was Marilyn Trulock. A teacher’s strike in the early 1980s resulted in some educators getting moved around, and Trulock found herself at Lincoln.
“I got moved from high school PE to kindergarten,” Trulock said. “It was scary, but Larry always made me feel confident. You can do it. If you need any help, come down. He said, ‘I will not bother you, but if you need something, always feel free to come.’"
Trulock noted Taylor also had just the right touch with students, even when it came to disciplinary matters.
“The kids loved Larry,” Trulock said. “I had a student and I told him, ‘If you do that again, you’re going to go to the principal.’ They weren’t afraid. They loved Larry. One little girl said, ‘Why don’t I ever get to go?’ You didn’t want to tell them it was because she wasn’t bad.
“I told Larry that and he said, ‘Send her down sometime. We’ll just sit down and talk.’“
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