By Bernie Schmitt
Tom Joice has been retired for 10 years, but he still enjoys quizzing people about history.
Instead of young students, however, Joice quizzes his friends and others via social media (Facebook), even offering prizes to those who can answer correctly.
“I give away either a cheesecake, a copy of Alastair Cooke’s America, or something,” he said. “I try to ask interesting questions, things that can’t be found with a Google search.”
The questions stem from his teaching career, when he would try to find unique ways to get his middle school students interested in history. He would tell them true tales that would not be found in a standard eighth grade textbook. It made history fun and interesting.
For instance, few people know that in 1863, when Abraham Lincoln’s son Robert was on his way back to college, in a throng of people at a rail station platform, he somehow got pushed onto a railroad track in front of an oncoming train. But a hand reached out to pull Robert off of the track. The hand belonged to Ed Booth, the brother of John Wilkes Booth. It was John, of course, who assassinated President Lincoln.
“I came up with all kinds of weird things,” he said. “I had to have something to get their attention.”
“I try to ask interesting questions, things that can’t be found with a Google search.” — Tom Joice
Students learned that Kingsford charcoal was really developed by automaker Henry Ford, who wanted a way to use the wood waste generated by his sawmill. It was Edward Kingsford who had helped Ford buy timber land so Ford would have wood for his vehicles. Later, when an investment company bought Ford Charcoal, it was renamed Kingsford Charcoal.
“Not many people know about that,” Joice says.
His living room is filled with historical mementos, family photographs, and reminders of his 33-year teaching career at Clark Middle School. His love for teaching probably came from his mother, Lida Rose Schultheis Joice, who was an English teacher for many years at St. Rose Academy and at Sacred Heart.
“Her heart was in teaching,” he said. “She graded with a red, felt-tip pen.”
Joice taught seventh and eighth grade students, a challenge that was ultimately rewarding. He says he taught more than 4,000 students over the years and made some wonderful friends.
‘I was excited every day’
“I got a call from Clancy Stout about a teaching opening,” he said. “I had to borrow clothes to go to the interview. They asked if I could do it, I said yes, and I was hired.
“On my first day, I walked in cold, hadn’t seen the textbook or anything, and I saw all those kids there and I thought, ‘What did I do?’ But honest, I fell in love with it. The kinds were so much fun. It was great. I was excited every day. Outside of my family, it was the biggest thing in my life.”
There were times when he chaffed against administrative rules, and times when he was saddened to find out that there were some parents who didn’t always care about their kids.
“They say that kids have changed,” he said. “But I think kids are kids; it is the parents who have changed.”
When terrorists flew planes into the World Trade Center towers in New York on Sept. 11, 2001, Joice had the television in his classroom tuned in to the news (as did others in the school). But administrators, he says, sent out word that they shouldn’t show it to students, fearing it would be too traumatizing for them.
“I didn’t agree,” he said. “Yes, some of the things that happen, like the Reagan assassination attempt or the Challenger tragedy are sad, but it is history happening right before our eyes.”
For many years Joice also owned a painting business called All Seasons Painting, though he worked that job mostly during the summer months. He was still at it, too, after retiring from teaching, but he suffered a fall in 2013 that laid him up for a bit. He continued with it until 2015, so he could get his youngest daughter through college. He had been painting for 41 years.
“I closed out one business and now I’m trying to start another,” he said.
Joice said he enjoys cooking, so he’s hoping to begin a meal delivery service. He already makes and sells (and sometimes gives away) his cheesecakes.
A family man
While Joice was immensely satisfied with his teaching career, the number one joy in his life is his family. His three daughters are the loves of his life.
“Nothing in my life has given me more pleasure than my daughters,” he said. “They are the best thing in my life.”
His oldest daughter, Bridget Washington, work in the Human Resources department at Futaba, so she’s close to home. Dana Wathenholt is a medical perfusionist in infant heart surgery in Marietta, Ga. His youngest, Mollie Joice, will graduate from her father’s alma mater, Indiana State University, with honors.
“They’ve all done well, in spite of their father,” he laughed.
Joice has always enjoyed history. He was a “voracious reader” growing up, and there is plenty of history in his own family. His grandfather, Clarence Joice, was Knox County Sheriff in the 1930s, and got to drive President Franklin D. Roosevelt, when FDR came to Vincennes to dedicate the George Rogers Clark Memorial.
His parents’ wedding announcement on Dec. 7, 1941, was overshadowed by the news Pearl Harbor. Carl and Lida were married on Valentine’s Day in 1942. Joice’s dad got a draft notice on March 1. His mom worked in a torpedo factory during the war.
History is important far beyond a subject one takes in school.
“It’s who we are,” Joice says. “It’s what made us, and it is what our future is.”
In 1992 he was in the Bahamas where he came upon a large stone with an accompanying plaque which marked the spot where Christopher Columbus first set foot in the new world.
“That year happened to be the 500th anniversary,” Joice said. “I couldn’t help but think about what that opened up. I couldn’t believe I was standing there, 500 years later. We wouldn’t be here if not for him.”