April 2005

'Mr. Gordy' helps teach the joy of reading

By Christine Durand

At the age of 86, Cortez resident Gordon Milligan still knows the joy of being of service.

For the past eight years Milligan has worked to assist first- and secondgraders at Manaugh Elementary School with reading. He also helps Beech Street Kindergarten students in making their lunchtime meal and transportation connections at Manaugh, takes turns with playground duty and assists with “The Country Store.”

Milligan, better known as “Mr. Gordy” to students and teachers, began as a volunteer — but during his eightyear tenure his services have become so valuable that the school district now pays him.

It’s apparent that Manaugh students are extremely fond of “Mr. Gordy.” First- and second-grade teacher Lynn Soukup’s class is Milligan’s base class, although he also works with students from other classes.

Soukup’s student Britney Corbitt said she appreciates the positive feedback that Milligan provides. “I like Mr. Gordy because he sometimes tells me, ‘ That's a really good job’,” she said.

Several of Soukup’s students said they like the stories Milligan shares and appreciate his help with reading. “ He’s just really nice,” summarized Tyson Simp.

Soukup said Milligan also shares stories about his World War II Air Force experiences with students.

“He’s a wonderful person to work with — he gives 110 percent,” Manaugh librarian Karen Yarbrough said.

She described Milligan as having the best interests of the children at heart, adding that he’s a person who never expects anything in return for what he does.

Yarbrough runs The Country Store in the library before school starts. Students can buy small items in the store. Even though most students don’t arrive until around 9 a.m., Milligan is there at 7:30 every morning. Yarbrough said when students want items and find themselves without adequate resources, Milligan always finds a way to see that they have what they need.

First-grade teacher Tina Callihan said students “absolutely love him,” explaining that he’s a grandfather figure to many of them. “He’s a special presence in our building — a friend,” she said.

“He chooses some really good stories,” Callihan’s student Bailey Starritt said.

“Whenever I get words wrong, Mr. Gordy helps me,” added classmate Hope Pell.

“Every day, all year long, the kids beg to go read with Mr. Gordy,” said first-grade teacher Cherie Dennison. “ He always has a smile.”

Milligan and his ex-wife, Norma, raised three children of their own: Mark, a financial manager in Evergreen, Colo.; Kay Bantam, a homemaker and “rancher’s wife” in Orleans, Neb.; and Becky Arndt, a homemaker in Grand Island, Neb., who also works with children to help them learn to read. Milligan said he has, exactly, “a batch” of grandchildren.

Milligan holds an associate degree in applied science from McCook Community College in McCook, Neb., and attended the University of Nebraska for two years before joining the Air Force. He attained the rank of first sergeant, serving as an aircraft mechanic.

Milligan farmed for 10 years in Nebraska, growing irrigated corn and alfalfa and also raising cattle. He was director of maintenance, housekeeping and safety for Southwest Memorial Hospital in the ’80s and also served as interim administrator for part of that tenure.

He taught first aid and CPR for the Red Cross for 34 years, in both Nebraska and Colorado. Milligan routinely gave students a test at the end of the course, but one year he had an experience that would strongly influence his retirement years.

When he passed out the tests, he noticed that one student, a 42-year-old man, didn’t begin writing.

Milligan asked him why he wasn’t taking the test. The man quietly replied that he couldn't read. (Milligan then gave him the test orally.)

Milligan said that experience caused him “to realize how important reading is.”

Ten years later, upon retirement, he began working at Manaugh. Milligan is obviously in his element at the school. When asked what he likes best about reading with the children, he answers with a warm smile, “ Their coming up and hugging me — and when they thank me for teaching them.”

Does he have plans to retire from this post-retirement work? “No. I love it,” he replies.

“Do what you can where you are with what you have,” Theodore Roosevelt once said. Gordy Milligan has brought these words to life.