Sunday, April 4, 2010


Grade Ten social studies was hardly my idea of a good time and Mr. Marvin Janzen made it worse. Because of this man's incredible memory, he expected superhuman performances out of all his students.

We talk these days about gigabytes of memory, CPU speeds and retrieval times that are lightning fast. Today's new computers have nothing on Mr Janzen. In the first couple weeks of school he would memorize every student's name, day and year of birth. It was a common occurrence, as he encountered you in the hallway or on the campus, to point his finger at you and rattle off your birth date. No other greeting, conversation or small talk, just this statistic, and he was hardly ever wrong. This was not just the pupils in his own classes, but every student in the entire school from grades nine to twelve. At the time the school numbered well over three hundred students.

You can imagine what was in store for us as his Grade Ten Social Studies students. He took great delight in having us memorize pages and pages of events and their associated dates. Sometimes the quizzes would just have dates listed and you were to fill in the event and other times the reverse was true. He would give us the event and we were to supply the date. I went as far as rigging up an 8 track cartridge player, speaking all of the information into a microphone and letting the machine loop over and over at night while I slept. I hoped there was something to the whole subconscious mind theory, I would absorb said material and "Voila!", ace every one of Mr. Janzen's tests. Not so easy! I discovered that it took work for me to memorize anything and the method that worked best for me was to write out the material in long hand over and over. That seemed to get it ingrained into my memory. This actually took a lot of work and time but it had the benefit of my passing the class. Other students would recite information out loud over and over. Different approaches for different people.

As we navigated through the material that year we came to the section on World War II. Somehow we discovered that Mr Janzen spoke fluent German and not only that but he had memorized one of the Führer's speeches word for word! Not just some lines, but the entire rant. WOW! We were shocked, mesmerized and most importantly, eager for him to share this newly discovered skill with the class. Mr. Janzen was normally a very austere type of individual and had a very low tolerance level for any shenanigans. Every one has their buttons and he had his. I think he was quite thrilled that we recognized this talent and became eager to showcase his skills. I guess that he felt, and we argued, that this demonstration was both educational and historical in nature. We thought it would be just fine if he were to give us a sampling of his hidden talent. With our encouragement he gave in and delivered a couple of lines from the speech. The class cheered and applauded, a slight grin came over Mr. Janzen's face and we knew we had won. Of course we didn't have a clue if he was really reciting from the Führer or Shakespeare, but matter not, this was exciting business!

Having had a taste of a little of the speech and figuring more was better, we would constantly implore him to "perform" again. He would resist and we would persist. Maybe he missed the accolades, I'm not really sure why, but finally he gave in. Someone suggested (may have been Phil Callaway?) that if Mr. Janzen were to take a small black comb and grip it so just enough showed to pass for a small mustache, it would give the whole proceedings a more realistic feel. A comb was produced and Mr. Janzen agreed. We stopped short of arm bands and insignias.

Before we knew what was happening, and before anyone could say luftwaffe, with one bound Mr. Janzen leapt right up onto a table in front of the classroom. Holding the comb in one hand as his faux stache and saluting straight out with the other, he let loose with the most electrifying speech we had ever heard. Standing there in his black suit, black military boots, skinny tie and mustache, every eye was glued to him as he yelled out this historic speech in fluent German. We were both horrified and intrigued all in one emotion. This was certainly better than studying, but was it even right? Did this guy have a secret past that none of us knew about? How did he come to know this material? We had lots of questions, and very few answers. In a small community where conspiracy theories ran rampant, anything could be possible. On he went delivering with the passion of a pentecostal preacher.

We sat there stunned . . .

Our Social Studies classroom was situated on the third floor of the high school building. It had a small window on each door at both the front and back of the classroom. On that particular day, at that particular time, the principal of the high school just happened to be walking down the hall. Hearing the yelling, Ken Penner stopped and walked over to the front door of our classroom and peered in the window. We all saw him standing there, but by now Mr. Janzen was so geared up that the building itself could have been on fire and I don't think he would have noticed. Finally the speech was over and there came a knock at the front door.

Mr Janzen continued to teach in the school but the Führer never came back for a visit.

© 2010 Stephen J. Rendall - All rights reserved.


  1. Oh my, I never had the privilege of hearing anything like that! Of course, I never had Mr. Janzen either. ;)

  2. I remember that speech as well as the outlines to the 100th level.

  3. aaawwhh, Mr. Janzen...
    George and Alma (Nethercott)Stone...
    Peterborough, On

  4. Great story, Steve. Had me laughing out loud. Maybe it's time to join Phil Callaway and see some of these Prairie vignettes published!

  5. I had him for Grade 9 English, his first year. He told me that he had even taught in the public system and I was the 'most insolent boy' he had ever taught. I had to look that up....

  6. Elle (Pulley) HendrixJanuary 19, 2013 at 2:02 AM

    Too funny! That was a great story, and I could visualize it all. Great writing skills. I too had the word "insolent" to describe me on one of my detention slips. I had to look it up also! Maybe that was their way of making us use the dictionary?