BROOKSVILLE — J. Mark Frazier hopped in the car one day nearly four decades ago and made an 18-hour trip from Indiana to Hernando County that forever changed his life.
A newly graduated teacher, he had an opportunity to interview with Dolores S. Parrott, then a junior high school principal. He arrived in Brooksville and changed into a suit at a gas station. He then walked into the school office.
"Mr. Frazier is here for his interview," he remembered the secretary telling Parrott, who had been leaning over a desk with her back to him.
"Tell him to come back in two hours," he recalled.
She didn't even glance up.
Frazier was surprised by the abrupt reception, but returned nevertheless. This time she was different.
"She didn't even offer me the job," he remembered. "She says, 'Let's go look at your room, I'll get the key.' "
Frazier is glad she did.
This week he will officially retire from the school that bears his first principal's name after 39 years of teaching. Frazier taught every year at the same school, through its ups and downs, through the thousands and thousands of different students and the multitude of teachers. He saw the school change its name, its location and grade levels. He's served under a host of different administrators — eight, to be exact.
"I really feel blessed that I've been able to have some effect on these kids' lives," he said. "That's what I'll miss the most."
Frazier, 62, began that first year with five preparations. He taught graphic arts, photography, construction, auto mechanics and drafting. Over the years he has also taught gifted English, creative writing and English.
For the past 21 years he has taught technology education. In 2000, he added television production and has been broadcasting the school's morning show for 14 years. During his tenure, he has also sponsored the yearbook (17 years) and run the school newspaper (8 years).
But the newspaper is gone and he's passed along the duties of supervising the yearbook. And when Frazier retires on Friday, his technology education class will also likely come to an end. The program is slated to be eliminated because of a reduction in staffing allocations.
The class introduces students to a wide variety of fields, ranging from space and rocketry to computer-aided design and hydraulics, through a program of 16 different modules. Each are highly hands on.
He said the point of the program is to provide students a taste of a host of different areas, helping them hone their interests and select a career later in life.
With the elimination of the program, Parrott would no longer have vocational classes to help students select a career, he said.
"How are they going to choose if they don't have a clue about what's available out there," he asked. "That's the point of my program."
He called it a career-oriented class in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, popularly referred to as STEM.
Frazier has many happy memories from his years in the classroom, but his trips to the Florida Keys stand out.
For 12 years, Frazier and his students embarked on five-day trips to Newfound Harbor Marine Institute on Big Pine Key and Key West. "Probably the most fun I ever had was doing the Keys trips," he said.
Frazier has seen students enter his classroom, leave and return years later as employees at Parrott, including assistant principal Patricia Martin. She was one of his graphics students.
In all, he counted 20 former students who are working at the school.
Frazier has touched a lot of lives and he appreciates the opportunity he had, but he is looking forward to more grandchildren time and delving more deeply into his Revolutionary War interests.
What he won't miss is the early hour school started. "I won't mind not having to get up at five o'clock," he said.
Danny Valentine can be reached at [email protected] or (352) 848-1432. On Twitter: @HernandoTimes.