SANDY — Once upon a time a teacher of mine in junior high put his hand on my shoulder and gave me some advice.
“Take Type II in high school,” he said.
Back then they didn’t call it keyboarding.
Vere Densley was a man of few words. He taught type at Mount Jordan Junior High School when I was growing up. I took his class in ninth grade, a welcome respite between math and biology.
Mr. Densley would say “home row” and for 30 or 40 minutes we’d type various things at varying speeds and rates of accuracy on these machines called typewriters (the forerunner to the smart phone). He was no nonsense about his job but he was no slave driver. Just a kind man teaching a skill. His biggest claim to fame among the students was his son Steve, who was a year older than me and the best athlete at Jordan High School. He was a sophomore starter on the team that won the state basketball championship and basketball wasn’t even his best sport. Football was.
For some reason, I enjoyed typing and Mr. Densley must have seen something I didn’t see or maybe he said the same thing to all the kids but he encouraged me to take the advanced type class when I got to Jordan because he said it would prove valuable to me in my life.
So I did, although I almost didn’t. I dutifully signed up for Type II as a sophomore, only to discover that only girls, and, worse, girls older than me, took Type II. I walked in and saw 50 girls, most of them juniors and seniors. Opting against committing social suicide on the first day of high school, I started to walk right back out until another sophomore boy who had been standing petrified in the hall saw me and came in.
This is all so very significant to my life because one of the reasons I eventually decided to major in journalism in college was because I liked to type. I didn’t know if I could write (and neither did my English teachers) but I knew I could type. It wasn’t a chore to me. Even typing numbers was no problem – it was one of the advanced things they taught you in Type II.
Typing has had a lot to do with how I’ve made my living my entire adult life.
For half-a-century I have wondered if Mr. Densley had any idea how much I owed him.
Last week I finally got a chance to tell him.
The reunion was sparked by someone else’s story. Dave Phillips is a fellow Jordan High Beetdigger, from the Class of ’68, who a couple of months ago emailed me with some information about one of our classmates, Bret Crandall, who was killed in the Vietnam War. In my return email I asked Dave if he went to Vietnam. He wrote back that he was drafted in 1970 and thought sure he was on his way to Nam until fate smiled on him and the Army assigned him to be a clerk at a base in Germany.
He gave this explanation for how he got the clerk job:
“Because I took a typing class from good old Mr. Densley at Mt. Jordan.”
Not only did typing keep him out of Vietnam, Dave said, the clerking skills he learned in the Army got him a job with the Veterans Administration when he returned home. That launched a 37-year career and, not incidentally, is how he met his wife.
Unlike me, Dave had thanked Mr. Densley. Several years earlier he’d sent him a letter.
But I’d never thanked him and wondered if it was too late.
I called Steve Densley, who lives in Provo and just recently retired after 30 years as president of the Utah Valley Chamber of Commerce, and inquired about his dad.
Still alive at 87 and going strong, he said, and still living in the same house he and his wife Mary Lou, who’s also going strong, moved into in White City in 1958.
Dave Phillips, who is in his second term as mayor of Heber City, and I made an appointment to drive out and see Mr. Densley and say thank-you together.
His wife was there, and his daughter Alison joined us, and we reminisced for a couple of hours
Mr. Densley didn’t remember either Dave or me specifically. How could he? He taught type for 27 years at Mount Jordan. He must have had more than 10,000 students.
But we remembered him specifically and told him so.
And assured him that if he didn’t make a difference in the lives of everyone he taught, he sure did in these two.
Lee Benson's About Utah column runs Mondays. EMAIL: firstname.lastname@example.org