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Learning from Mister Quiring Shaped Lives and Destinies

September 25, 2015

(Sept. 25, 2015 - by Ralph Kurtenbach)  With autumn settling in on Nebraska and first frosts coloring the oaks and maples in his aging mother’s yard, Rob Quiring is also experiencing some firsts. He and his family are in the U.S. after more than three decades in Ecuador. An English teacher, he might say this begins a new chapter.

There was no first-day-of-school movie clip of a fictional English teacher, Professor Keating of Dead Poets Society. And no retelling of the account from Ecuador’s Amazon region of the five missionary men who died in 1956.

Rob Quiring with Hyelim Cho backstage before a showing of "The Canterbury Tales" at Alliance Academy International in Quito.These semester-starting rituals went unobserved. Traditionally, Quiring—whistling the 1812 Overture—would march out to the hallway in Keating fashion, stick his head around the doorway and say, “Well, come on.” Curious and wide-eyed, the young people gazed upon the black-and-white photos of those five who had died together beside a river in their efforts to reach a hostile tribe with the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Coaxing them to lean in, he’d say to listen for the voices of the five. Filled with potential for lives of prosperity and professional success, all five, like Quiring himself, had elected to work in missions. Then in a whisper that was loud, he would say—not Carpe Diem (Seize the Day) as the fictional Professor Keating urged—but Carpe Aeternitatem … Carpe Aeternitatem (Seize Eternity … Seize Eternity).

This autumn in a hallway of the Quito-based Alliance Academy International (AAI), Quiring did not have opportunity afterwards to quip, “Why settle for just a day?”

Mister Quiring: An Institution and a Brand

Reach Beyond missionaries, Quiring and his wife, Barb, moved to Omaha in August to address some family issues. They have no plans to return to Ecuador to live. After completing their season of transition, Quiring will continue to use his teaching skills to serve with Reach Beyond through English-language ministries based in the U.S.

The classroom is not his pulpit now, but the whispered Carpe Aeternitatem urgings, along with other innovative ways to motivate young minds, established him as a teacher and much more.

Quiring participates in the 2015 graduation at AAI before moving to the U.S. where he and his wife, Barb, continue serving with Reach Beyond.“Rob Quiring is an institution at Alliance Academy,” Dr. David Wells announced from the podium during the school’s 2015 commencement ceremony in June. As the crowd stood to applaud, Quiring walked to the stage to receive from Wells, the international school’s director, a plaque of appreciation.

Upon his arrival in Ecuador in 1982, Quiring intended to teach at the school for several years. Through an injury sustained while mountain climbing, he met emergency room nurse Barb Penn from Pennsylvania, and they later married. Together they made a life in the South American country, which is known for the Galapagos Islands, the Andes, the equator, the Amazon rainforest and more. They raised two children there, David, 23, and Susan, 19.

Rob and Barb Quiring with children David and Susan.In recent years, one former student dramatically escaped from Colombian insurgents who were holding him for ransom. Another was a candidate for vice president. Quiring observed that “you know you have been in Ecuador for a long time when you see your former students on the cover of the national news magazine Vistazo.” (Vistazo or “Look” is the Ecuadorian equivalent of Time or Newsweek.) Other students serve as missionaries in Ecuador and in many nations around the world.

A friend and former co-worker, Sarah Araque, had solicited notes of appreciation from the school’s alumni. One of them, Lisa Manley, wrote that “academically, ‘Quiring’ was a brand at the Alliance Academy.” Her note took a casual tone with “Dear Rob,” but even years after the teacher/student role had faded, she wrestled still, saying, “You are etched in my mind as ‘Mr. Quiring.’” Others used the honorific “mister” in their notes, due either to habit or deep respect for a teacher whom some regarded as a professor even then.

Quiring taught at AAI for more than 30 years.“Your skill in the classroom and level of passion for the experience was never again matched in my education—either in college or graduate school,” wrote Sara Fisher Brazier, a 2000 graduate. Quiring, with a lanky stature and sporting a bow tie, struck a professorial bearing as he led students to the most favored of places for him—the library.

If indeed a book is like a good friend, he had hundreds in his classroom and even more friends at the library. A 1987 graduate, Christof A. Weber remembered that “he encouraged me to read Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead.”

“I don’t remember exactly why he wanted me to read it, but I do remember that he required me to get my parents’ permission first,” said Weber. “There’s nothing better to spark a teenage boy’s interest in a book than to tell him he must get permission to read it.”

If a book wasn’t at the library, Quiring would see about acquiring it. “I always liked to see Rob come into my shop,” said a bookstore proprietor in Quito’s tourist sector.

The Sentence as One of the World’s Wonders

Throughout the school’s halls and locker hangout areas, Quiring’s reputation seemed to waft before him, a man focused on passionate instruction, demanding reading schedules and academic rigor.

This is not to say there wasn’t fun. A 1999 graduate, Ben Parker, remembers Quiring’s offer of an ‘A’ to anyone who found and brought to him a model car—a Dodge Durango. “You don’t know how many hours I spent combing the malls looking for a model of that car,” he said.

“I have to smile every time someone mentions or I run across the name Charlemagne, or ‘Chuck the Big One,’ as he was referred to in the classroom,” said Amy Beck, a student influenced by Quiring toward a teaching career.

Quiring with Luke, a current student at AAI.Daniel Araque, whose mother compiled the tributes booklet, said, “I will never forget the day you had us listen to Paul Simon’s song, Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes. What seemed to be a simple lyrical story transformed into words with depth and many more layers and colors were revealed.”

From Quiring, Araque also learned that “words have strength to convey so much and also to hide so much.” Another student, Liesl McDowell, finds to this day that journalists, authors, novelists and others are worth reading, even when their worldview is not biblically based. “Maybe he or she is conveying untruth, yet his/her work mirrors contemporary culture,” she said.

“You are the first intellectual I met, the first person to show me that ideas matter,” wrote Colin Snowsell, now a communications professor at Okanagan College in Vernon, British Columbia, Canada. “You are also the first person to show me that a good sentence is, in its own right, one of the world’s great wonders.”

Atop a Table with ‘Sword’ in Hand

“I will never forget you jumping on a table with a ‘sword’ during some Shakespearean scene,” said McDowell. “It was in your class that I first recognized that poetry had depth and beauty.”

Kendra Emmett, an AAI alumnus and self-described “literature nut,” went on from the school to study Gothic literature and Jane Austen, both in Europe. “I am now hip-deep in a master’s thesis on Shakespeare’s use of oaths,” she wrote. The foundation in literature took shape in subjects taught by Quiring.

Quiring with the cast of "A Midsummer Night’s Dream."As the school’s theater director, Quiring led performances that incorporated musicals (including The Sound of Music, Godspell and West Side Story) one-acts (including The House by the Stable and The Apollo of Bellac) and children’s theater (including The Storytellers and Puss ’n Boots).

Among the full-length productions he directed were numerous Shakespearean tragedies and comedies, including A Midsummer Night’s Dream (twice, 25 years apart, and his swan song at the school), Cymbeline, Much Ado About Nothing and The Taming of the Shrew. A parent whose daughter played in A Midsummer Night’s Dream found that Quiring deftly adapted plays to the school’s available actors. “He seemed a gentle force,” said Jeanelle Higgins.

A Shaper of Young Lives

If grammatical concepts and a paragraph’s cohesiveness were celebrated in his classroom, he also established there the foundations for community with the members of the persecuted church elsewhere in the world. With a view toward this, he launched a student prayer group called Solidarity.

Quiring and retired AAI teacher Chuck Howard praying for the persecuted church at Solidarity.“Jesus loves the Church, and we are to as well—especially our brothers and sisters who are being persecuted,” was one takeaway for Eric Bean. Leah Vanderlaan remembers “writing letters to politicians and praying for our dear brothers and sisters who are being persecuted.” Another former student now writes for an organization serving the persecuted church.

“You have a real sense of justice and faith that you’ve passed on to others,” she said. A 2014 graduate, Jenna Wolfram referred to praying for believers elsewhere as “truly one of the most prominent lessons learned while at the Alliance.”

Year after year, with teaching and tutelage followed by “brutal” exams—according to 1994 graduate Tim Dow—Quiring has shaped young lives. With coaxing, compassionate listening and consistency, the instructor’s investment in students has paid off.

Young minds were ignited with future aspirations. “I became a professor because of you,” wrote Snowsell. Others who have walked across the gymnasium stage to receive an AAI diploma readily reveal that in crossing paths in Ecuador with a tall, thin bespectacled Nebraskan, they have followed in the footsteps of Mister Quiring.

Sources: Reach Beyond; Sarah Araque, Alliance Academy International




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