Glenville, West Virginia, U.S.A.
His teaching has always been hands-on science. Sometimes, he wonders how miraculous it was that he had students who understood his love for biology. Parasitology was a challenge since he required the students to conduct many necropsies of different animal species. Raccoons, opossums, beavers, foxes, ground hogs, small rodents, amphibians, reptiles, and others were examined for tapeworms and other parasites – exoparasites and endoparasites. In the world of microbial pathogens, he escaped any problems with students acquiring pathogen transmissions. The only incident that this science teacher can remember was a student who did not place latex gloves on his hands when searching through the intestines of a groundhog. Next day, the boy woke up with a bad case of poison ivy (which the critter had previously eaten). This student learned a valuable lesson the hard way.
Jim was born in Alderson, WV, and, in 1964, he graduated from Spencer High School, in Spencer, WV.
He earned his Bachelor of Science in biology and chemistry from Glenville State College, a Master of Science in biological sciences from Marshall University, in Huntington, WV, and completed post graduate work at West Virginia University, in Morgantown.
Jim commenced his career in 1968 at Ripley High School, staying there until 1972. At the end of that school year, he was offered a job at Glenville State College, and remained there until his retirement in 2002. In total, he spent 34 years in the teaching profession. In that time, he taught grades 9 to 12 in secondary school and from freshman year to senior year and graduate classes in college. His largest class was approximately 100 students in Biology 101.
In his first year of experience, he taught biology and general science to mostly 9th and 10th graders at Ripley High School, a modern facility. The number of students averaged about 30 in a class.
His favourite two students at home – daughters Rachael and Sarah – grew up holding not just kittens and puppies but turtles, opossums, snakes, lizards, and even once a rescued vulture.
Teaching was such a joy. There are so many memorable experiences of his career that he probably could write a book rather than try to include them in a short essay. However, he created a family blog in 2005 and has related many teaching stories during the first several years of the blog. See http://jimmeads.blogspot.ca/ . Nevertheless, there is one story that stands out although some persons probably would prefer to blot it from their memories. We can laugh about the incident now, but it was no laughing matter at the time.
It was in the spring of 1997. Jim retired to bed at the normal time that night. His good wife was in Parkersburg, WV, visiting her mother. He was sleeping soundly when the phone rang at 5:20 A.M. Well, of course, the first thought was, who died? Another possibility – perhaps the emergency team was calling to evacuate the town from incoming meteor showers from the Hale-Bopp comet. No, neither was the case!
It was Jean, the custodian in the Science Building at Glenville State College, who was in charge of cleaning the Science Hall. “Mr. Meads, I hate to wake you, but there is a problem with your big python. It has escaped and made a huge mess in the storage room.”
He replied untruthfully, “Oh, no problem. I just stepped out of the shower.” At once, He realized how the snake had exited the cage. He had left the cage door unlocked!! “Have no fear,” he said, “Snake catcher Jim is on his way.”
As some of his readers guess, this had happened once before. It was becoming more difficult to remember since reaching 50 years of age with brain cells starting to die! Yep, he was feeding the twelve-foot Burmese python, and just forgot to lock the cage door.
After a fast shower (amazing for an arthritic fellow) and a quick donning of his clothes, Jim was off on THE MISSION. Arriving at the science hall, he saw Bud, the other science hall custodial staff person, holding a big club. He had heard glass breaking and thought the science building was being robbed. He was ready for the thieves and was going to thump them with this large piece of xylem (tree stem)! Jean, however, had discovered that the snake was missing from the cage and was pushing off a plethora of glass jars onto the floor as the ole reptile slithered across the shelves. THE TIME WAS 5:35 A.M.
Jim quickly inspected the scene. The python had not only made a mess with broken glass, but had also knocked onto the floor a stuffed owl and a model of the male reproductive system. After close inspection of the model, he realized that all was fine except that one important part was absent. No time to look for the missing part now! It was necessary to clean up broken glass. He located the snake behind the freezer just seemingly enjoying all of the activity. The teacher’s thought was to leave the reptile there until the cleanup job was completed.
He immediately commenced the task of cleaning. It was now 6:00 A.M. – Genetics class at 8:00 – and he may have time for a fast coffee and a MacDonald’s biscuit if all were to go well. The lady custodian departed from the scene and said that she would find something in which to deposit the glass. After she left, Jim decided that now was the time to place that twelve-foot python into its cage. It should be an easy job – having done it before – millions of times – yep, a snap!
He moved the freezer from the wall and grabbed the snake’s tail. At a speed of 120 miles per hour that python took off and, before Jim knew what had happened, it was crawling into the FREEZER. Yes, you say how could this be? Well. friends, there was an opening in the back of the freezer that led to a chamber that held the compressor, wires, and other parts. The snake disappeared into that dark recess. Now Jim had a snake in the freezer.
This meant that he would have to take the freezer apart – as he certainly could not leave it in there. Jean appeared at the door, returning with the box for disposing of the broken glass. She inquired, “Where is the snake?”
Jim responded calmly, “Oh, I put the critter in a bag until I get the cage cleaned.” Oh, no!! I lied – again! It, however, was not wise to have a snake crammed in a hole three inches from her leg and tell her the truth. She smiled, secure in the knowledge that all was well and went off to proceed with her work.
Not known as a master carpenter, Jim tackled the job with a screwdriver in hand. Carefully removing the panels, he discovered the snake. He was now dealing with a snake from the nether regions of the universe! He grabbed his snake stick and poked at the creature until it decided to extract itself from the compressor. As it slithered out, Jim managed to grab its tail.
As most of you know, snakes have a wonderful defense mechanism. They expel a vile liquid called MUSK from their tail end. Yep, it smells – and this snake was upset. How did Jim know?? A quantity (perhaps five gallons – a slight exaggeration) of musk was ejected from his cloaca, effectively covering its pursuer’s ventral side. The time was now 6:34 A.M. and Jim was smelling like quality musk and had a very angry snake – biting anything that moved. No problem!
He wrestled the beast (Jungle Jim Fowler and even Marlin Perkins would have been proud of this biology teacher!), pulling on its muscular body in an unarthritic-like manner. The snake was trying to maneuver its body under anything that was near. Finally, Jim arrived, by some miracle, at the cage’s door. He hurled the long reptile up into the air and body slammed him into the cage. He has no idea how he physically accomplished this since that guy was heavy. The door closed. Jim’s heart was pounding! Should he call 911? No, he decided not as he felt no chest pains! Okay, he now had things under control – so he thought. He was WRONG!!!!
He cleaned up the musk and found on the floor under a cabinet a dead bird and a rat. From whence had they come? At once he realized the stark truth. That stupid snake had eaten the study skins that the Vertebrate Zoology students in his class had prepared as part of their requirements. (Remember – study skins when completed are skins stuffed with cotton with wires inside for support and borax as a dehydrating agent.) A closer inspection revealed that those specimens were at one time in the snake’s tummy.
The python obviously had regurgitated them. The slimy appearance of the study skins proved his theory correct. He was amazed that the creature was able to expel them as they had thick wires sticking out of the skins. The vertebrate students had positioned about twenty skins on a board for drying in that room. Now, they were down to 18 study skins.
After a closer inspection, Jim realized the wonderful study skin of a rabbit was also missing. (Now down to 17 study skins!!) On the previous day, the student had performed such a wonderful job of completing the task that his teacher had commented, “Wow, it really is good! Looks so natural.” Right! Obviously the snake thought so, too. At that time, the snake had a cottontail rabbit (and cotton stuffing inside) in his belly. Jim was not running him off to the zoo emergency room, but he would wait to see if the stomach acids were as strong as everyone said. If not, is anyone looking for snake cheque covers? Now he was becoming a bit depressed… not only had his students’ projects been swallowed, partially digested, and then thrown up, but one was still in the snake! The python was still looking happy – no sign of a look of constipation on its face.
Now it was about 7 AM. Jim was beat, but he was on a final mission before he could prepare for the Genetics class in an hour. He MUST find the missing and essential part to the male reproductive model. Had he thrown it away into the garbage bag that the good janitor had taken downstairs? Immediately, he ran down the stairs to search the bagful of assorted trash. She saw him and asked, “Mr. Meads, what are you looking for? Can I help?”
“NO … just checking to see if I threw something away,” he responded. Why was he not comfortable in explaining that he was looking for a missing penis? He felt a little like Mr. Bobbitt at the local 7-11 store. Not found! OK, it had to be some place near where it had fallen. After a detailed inspection, THERE IT WAS… behind a cabinet. Quickly, he restored the piece to the appropriate location on the model. All was now well!
The harried instructor calmly strolled into Genetics class and discussed mutations and DNA translocation. Now you folks know the rest of the story.
As a postscript, the snake decided that the bunny study skin was not appropriate for his digestive system. He regurgitated the item. Guess the old snake was back to normal.
As a further postscript – Jim was wrong again! The snake died of wire damage and 20 Mule Team borax poisoning! Thus ends this laboratory misadventure.
Jim has enjoyed teaching students the amazing aspects of nature and the importance of biology in our world and has watched the students mature and become significant and contributing members of our society.
During his career, he was awarded the following:
Outstanding Faculty Award from Glenville State College in 1983;
West Virginia House of Delegates Outstanding Professor Citation from WV House of Delegates in 1990;
Distinguished Fellow Award from the West Virginia Science Teachers Association in 2002;
Glenville State College Faculty Marshall 1999 – 2002;
President’s Award of Excellence from Glenville State College in 2001;
Keynote Speaker at GSC Commencement in 2001.
He asserts that each teaching challenge that he has faced has been a blessing, but he managed not to face those that many other teachers have. He has been blessed in that the vast majority of students already possessed a serious interest in learning the subject. Facilities have always been adequate.
In his teaching career, Jim has prepared many new biology courses which he had to develop from the beginning. For example, in the late 1970s, he organized a WV Field Biology class for high school students during the summer. They spent a week in the Elkins area doing spelunking, palaeontology, and nature studies. The next week they spent at Dolly Sods Wilderness Area, studying that wonderful ecosystem. Jim also developed a cave science class that was research orientated, studying many caves in Randolph, Pendleton, Pocahontas, and other counties.
What is Jim’s advice to a student teacher regarding entering the profession? Work hard, care about your students, and find joy in your everyday teaching experiences. He has often wished that he had started a daily log (diary) of his career in teaching. Alas, like so many good intentions, it never happened. If you do not find joy and excitement in your teaching, you are most certainly in the wrong profession.
Jim and his wife Judy have been very active with their children, grandchildren and with their church. He is an Elder on the Session of the Glenville Presbyterian Church. Both of them are involved with many volunteer activities in the community. They have been volunteers in the WV State Folk Festival for many years. Jim was responsible for photography and production of the Folk Festival newspaper and Judy wrote many articles and coordinated Festival events.
In 2009, Jim started treatment for Hodgkins lymphoma. After chemotherapy, he has now been in remission for the past years. In July of this year as they were boarding a plane for Turks and Caicos, Judy suffered a complete retinal detachment. They were not able to reach a surgeon quickly. Medical situations present new challenges but Jim and Judy have found that each medical adventure taught them something and brought a blessing.
As for hobbies, Jim lists the following: herpetology, ornithology, entomology, flower gardening, fish pond and water gardening, Broadway theatre, travelling, hiking, photography, bread baking, and computer technology. It has been said that one can be busier after retiring than before. It appears that this may be true for him.
Throughout their 45 years of marriage, Jim and Judy have been blessed by family, friends, and students. They have accumulated a huge volume of stories which they remember more and more as they get older.