MIDDLEPORT – Herbert G. Koenig retired from teaching 26 years ago, but the same quest for adventures and thirst for knowledge he instilled in his students drive him to new accomplishments even today.
He’s a tireless volunteer for countless organizations to make his home a better place and also eagerly travels the world as an unofficial ambassador. And he has been instrumental in introducing a taste of German culture to the Village of Middleport, where he resides with his wife of 53 years, Jean, a retired Middleport Elementary School principal.
In the past decade, Koenig has helped arrange for the Lubbecke Brass Ensemble, of Germany, to visit Middleport on three occasions and for members of the Middleport Community Choir and Middleport Bell Tones to visit Germany twice. The Germans’ last trip here, a 15-day visit in late July, included a tight itinerary of special performances and sight-seeing – all carefully planned by Koenig and friends.
And the detail-oriented Koenig, 82, had to make sure all would be in order for the Germans’ visit before he left on a much-anticipated trip to Iceland earlier in July, where he enjoyed many new experiences, including walking on a glacier.
“I was the oldest in the whole crowd and went white-water rafting, and they said we couldn’t tip over, but I made sure I had the chance to go swimming,” he recalled with a laugh. “I had a wet suit on. I don’t hold back if I want to do something.”
Koenig returned in time to host his German friends in July. He is already planning another trip to Germany in May and a trip to the Panama Canal “next year or the year after.”
In the meantime, he recently purchased a new program to better learn the German language, something he said he’s been trying to master “for the past 40 years,” and he continues to remain active in a variety of community endeavors.
When did you begin traveling?
The travel bug bit me when I joined the U.S. Naval Reserve during the Korean [War]. I was commissioned as an ensign in 1954 and was on the USS Hornet out of Norfolk, Va. We were too big for the Panama Canal, so we circumnavigated the globe and visited Portugal, Naples and Rome, the Suez Canal, the Red Sea, Ceylon, the Philippines, Hong Kong, Japan and Hawaii. Then I was transferred to Pearl Harbor and spent two years in Hawaii on the admiral’s staff. I worked as a communications officer and traveled to Australia in 1957. I retired in 1967 from the U.S. Naval Reserve as a lieutenant.
Since retirement, I’ve also traveled to Costa Rica, China, Bangkok, Singapore, Holland, Turkey, Greece, Kenya, Bulgaria, Austria and Denmark. We also have a trailer and traveled the U.S. and Canada.
How did you begin your teaching career?
I was born in Buffalo and went through the Buffalo Public Schools. I graduated from Buffalo State Teachers College with my bachelor’s of science in 1952 and earned my master’s degree there and my Ph.D. in education from the University of Buffalo. I taught one year in sixth grade at Middleport Elementary School and then went in the Naval Reserve for four years. When I came back, I spent 29 years in the Royalton-Hartland Junior/Senior High School. I taught honors earth science and general science and chaired the science department from 1965 to 1981. I retired in 1986.
How did you choose science?
My bachelor’s was in elementary education, K through grade 8, with a minor in science. I had been an Eagle Scout. I always liked camping, the out-of-doors; nature interested me. I did my student teaching the second semester of my junior year and, at the time, elementary school teachers didn’t do much with science.
I remember the students had been asked to take out their science books, because I was about to do an experiment, and the children started to clap. It was a very moving experience for me. I tried to do something different every day so that the students could actually see something happening. When Middleport had that sixth-grade opening, I took it. When I was at the junior/senior high, I started a science fair, a science club and a model rocket club.
You were recognized for your teaching abilities and further expanded on them.
In 1985, I was named Roy-Hart’s Teacher of the Year, and that was a very high honor.
I was a member of the Middle/Junior High School Science Advisory Committee for the state Education Department, and we prepared “A Guide to the Core Process Skills and Content Understandings,” dealing with the science Regents competency test, that was first used across the state in 1988.
I also co-authored five science books.
How did you begin your relationship with your German friends?
My wife and I visited Germany in 1995, as part of a family research group. My wife has actually found out more about her family than I have about mine, because I get busy with so many other things. (He said with a laugh.)
I went in 1997 to Lubbecke as part of an Elderhostel program to explore my genealogy and was assigned to stay with Friedrich “Fred” Hirte and his family. He was in a brass ensemble at his church, and they approached me to organize a concert tour for them in America. They just wanted room and board – no money for this – and their intent was to bring people from the two countries closer together.
We formed the Middleport Community Choir in 1999 to do this and invited the German Brass Ensemble to perform with us in a concert at the Middleport United Methodist Church. Then they invited us to visit Germany in 2001, but 9/11 happened, and we went in 2002 and had a marvelous time. They came back here in 2005, and we went there again in 2008, with 35 singers and their families. They came back here for 15 days this summer, and we have been asked to visit them again in 2015.
Tell me about the unusually close relationship you’ve formed through this exchange.
I tell people, the only way Fred Hirte and I could be closer is to be Siamese twins. When I visit there, he and his wife, Dorle, and I go on little side trips, and I have been able to see quite a bit of Germany, like the Baltic Sea and the Rhineland. And when they visit us, I take them on trips. For example, they came for my 80th birthday two years ago, and I took them to Ohio to visit Fred’s cousin. I attended their son’s confirmation and their granddaughter’s baptism in Germany.
These close friendships don’t happen often in life, but when they do, you have to appreciate them.
What other organizations are you involved with?
I’ve been a trustee of the Middleport Free Library since 1978; an active member of Cataract Lodge No. 295, F&AM; and I’m currently second vice president and a member of the board of directors of the East Central Automobile Association of America (board member since 1973); and a member of the Middleport United Methodist Church.
How do you find the time to do so much?
You find the time to do what you want to do.
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