The American Dream – What it means to me
What does the "American dream" mean to you? As a part of Re: Dream, from February 26-April 22, WFYI is taking part in a national conversation about opportunity and obstacles in the 21st century. During this time, we will be sharing local stories about what the American dream means to those in our community. Learn more, hear from others, find local events, and share your American dream online and on social media using #MyReDream.
My father was an educator in the Wayne Township school system for over thirty years. Over the course of his teaching career he influenced the lives of many students. He not only taught physical education and driver's education but also for twenty years served as the wrestling coach at Ben Davis High School. In 1975, he was named to the Indiana Wrestling Hall of Fame for his coaching accomplishments. Although my dad, who passed away fourteen years ago, had not taught since 1980, his former students and wrestlers still approach me and let me know the impact he had on their lives. But the greatest impact he had was on my life.
My father bestowed on me two gifts that I will cherish forever. First, he gave me the gift of education. I do not mean that he packaged up an education to be unwrapped like a Christmas present. What I mean is that he taught me how education supports a path to achieving a dream. Like the parable says give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime. Translation: my father taught me how to fish by teaching me to value the importance of education knowing that education was the path to success in today's society. Knowing the value of an education in today's society, as his second gift, my father paid for my college education. Paying for my education on a mere educator's salary was no small task. Saving the money necessary for my education was a selfless act. My father put my needs before his own, sacrificing many luxuries such as new cars, dinners out, vacations, and a bigger home to give me an opportunity to attend college debt free.
Life was not easy for my father. He grew up in a poverty stricken environment on the Westside of Indianapolis, His parents, immigrants from Romania, tried desperately to provide for him and his four siblings, but, with only 6th grade educations, it was nearly impossible for my grandparents to obtain jobs that would provide ample income for such a large family. Without an education to support them, the only part of the American Dream my grandparents were living was that they were in America.
My father wanted a better life and realized that education was the key to overcoming this life of poverty. Like many of his generation, he graduated from high school and immediately enrolled in the military to serve his country during World War II. He enlisted in the Air Force and after basic training was sent to France where he spent most of his military years as a mechanic on fighter planes. After the war, my father returned and used the GI Bill to pursue his education at Indiana University. He spent four years at Indiana University and graduated with a degree in education. He was the first and only one in his family to obtain a college degree.
His college degree set him on a path to success. Upon graduation from college, he was hired by Wayne Township schools as a teacher and wrestling coach. He met my mother, also a teacher there, and they married in 1952. Three years later my mom quit her job as a teacher, and, with the birth of my sister, became a stay-at-home mom. I was born two years later and my father's dream for success was complete.
It was education that supported my father's path toward achieving his dreams and he wanted the same for his children. My father believed that he was put on earth to raise a family and to provide his children with an education. He told me many times that once my sister and I obtained college degrees that he could die knowing that he had accomplished God's plan.
Although my father is no longer with us, I thank him every day for the legacy he established in our family and the gifts he bestowed upon me. He started our family on a path to success when he graduated from college. He passed this legacy on to me and my sister. My sister is a 1977 Ball State graduate and I a 1979 graduate of Earlham College. We have, in turned, passed the legacy of education on to our children. My sister has a son who graduated from Northern Illinois. I have two sons now in college, one a junior at Ball State University and the other a freshmen at Butler University. My daughter a sophomore in high school also plans to attend college.
My father would be proud to know the path to success in the Preda family is well cemented due to the groundwork he established.
Joe Preda, is a lifetime educator, has been honored as 2007 District 7 Principal of the Year, 2013 Ivy Tech Partner of the Year and featured in the 2009 WFYI documentary, “The Good You Do.” He and wife Shannon are proud parents to three children: Brandon, 21, Adam, 19, and Caitlin, 16.