Column by Abbey Lewis
In a normal classroom setting with a substitute teacher, most students would be uninterested and preoccupied with their phones while the substitute sits back and observes the class. However, this isn’t the case for Fred See.
See, who was a substitute teacher for 28 years before retiring this year, had the reputation of being many students’ favorite sub because he engaged with them and created an environment full of enjoyment and bewilderment.
What made him so unique and prominent in the classroom were the stories he told about his life. From the way he’s lived, it seems that he’s been through every possible scenario. He served in the United States Army as an officer from 1963-1996 and reached the rank of Colonel. He was deployed to numerous countries including Germany, Vietnam, and Saudi Arabia where he was in many important military involvements such as the Vietnam War and Operation Desert Storm.
Here’s a recollection of one of his well-known stories from his time in Vietnam: While See was an S2, he was instructed by his commander to teach a group of local Vietnamese villagers to grow corn. I told my sergeant I wanted my jeep and two radio operators and then three jeeps with 50 caliber machine guns when we went through the jungle. So we pulled up and I told him where I wanted the jeep to be with the radios on with the operators right next to them and then the jeeps with 50 caliber machine guns pointing each different way. As we were walking out, I was checking the soil and I was keeping my eye on the people in the rice paddies because I didn’t know if they were friends or enemies and they stopped working and were looking at us. One of them waved his arms at us and yelled at us in Vietnamese but, nobody could speak Vietnamese, so I thought maybe he could speak French. He could and I asked him what was wrong and he told us that we’ve walked in the middle of a minefield. Fortunately, I looked back at my troops and none of them could understand French. So I had to make sure none of them panicked and I told them how to get out by looking at the ground and stepping in the same footprint. We all got out without anyone getting hurt.”
There is something about See’s personality that made him an unforgettable substitute. His diverse background helped him grab students’ attention and create an intriguing-yet-productive learning environment. He allowed the students to finish their assigned work then entertained them, whether by telling stories about his time in the army or by doing magic tricks with his missing finger.
See has the same excellent reputation amongst teachers as well. Hendersonville High School math teacher Jennifer Kotler was one of See’s soccer players when he coached in 1986.
“He was very proud to be our coach and all us girls worked hard for our coaches, Mr. See and Mrs. Ayers,” said Kotler.
She describes See as a coach who was always positive and encouraging - qualities that haven’t changed in over 30 years.
When he was serving in the reserves, 1969-1990, he spent his time working in an Oscar Meyer factory. Outside of Oscar Meyer, he started becoming more involved in the school system. He was a head coach for the Hendersonville High School girls’ soccer team in 1986 and an assistant coach for the boys’ soccer team in 1987.
After coaching, he was asked to be a substitute teacher. From 1988-2016, he subbed at many Sumner County schools, such as Hendersonville High, Ellis Middle, Hawkins Middle, T.W. Hunter Middle, and Merrol Hyde Magnet School.
He now volunteers at the office for Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) where he interviews veterans and assists them to make sure they receive all eligible military benefits. He also serves as a mentor for a few students at Merrol Hyde Magnet School, helping prepare them for college.
See has two sons and five grandsons. His eldest son, as well as three of his grandsons, one who is currently in Army ROTC, followed in his footsteps and served in the United States Army. When he’s not at the VFW, he enjoys spending time with his wife, Karen.
A note from the writer
Over the period of time I spent interviewing Mr. See and with every time we met, he never failed to amaze me with his humility and fascinating life, whether it was his accomplishments in the Army or his continuous service to people outside of the military. I didn’t realize what a life dedicated to helping others was until I had the privilege to learn about that of Mr. See’s – a life that inspired me to live one full of helping others. I chose to write about Mr. See because I always enjoyed hearing his stories when he would substitute for my class at school. He has the ability to bring a smile to everyone’s face wherever he goes. In addition to that, I believe our society lacks the very traits that he is full of: selflessness and kindness. He is a joyful individual full of characteristics that show he has lived a life dedicated to the service of others. Thus, while I believe that this man deserves more than a small article written about him, I hope his story inspires others to live a selfless life and give the gift of kindness to others.
This column also appeared in the Hendersonville Standard newspaper.