Many folks in Carroll County have heard of William Granville “Mike” Eaton at some point in their life. Eaton taught English and drama in Carroll County Public Schools for 41 years before he retired in 1971 — 36 at Westminster High School.
He was one of the many friendly and kind patriarchs in Carroll County for over a half-century. He passed away from cancer on April 24, 1995; however he maintains to this day, a profound influence over who we are as a community.
Eaton was born in Centerville on the Eastern Shore of Maryland on June 22, 1908. He came to Westminster in 1926 to attend Western Maryland College, where he graduated in 1930. It was in that year that he began his teaching career at Elmer A. Wolfe High School in Union Bridge.
In the early 1930s, he concurrently earned his master’s degree, in 1935, from Columbia University in New York.
After a year at Elmer Wolfe, he taught for three years at Charles Carroll High School in Silver Run before coming to Westminster to teach at the original 1898 Westminster High School on Center Street.
He was there for only one year before the “new” Westminster High School opened on Longwell Avenue, where he taught for the entire life of the building as a high school, in Room 106.
Eaton nurtured future leaders through the Kiwanis Key Club and inspired many students, friends, and colleagues to great success. Among his students was writer, director, and actor Ernest Thompson whose work includes “On Golden Pond.” Thomas has subsequently, over the years, won an Oscar, a Golden Globe and Writer’s Guild of America awards.
Local writer and former Carroll County commissioner Dean Minnich wrote a tribute on April 26, 1995 to Eaton in which he quoted another writer and student of Eaton’s, George Fringer.
Eaton “had no equal as a dedicated, witty, and inspiring builder of thought and educational excellence. … Written themes were required in his class every week. They were carefully graded too… Faulty structure, grammatical or spelling mistakes, lack of parallel construction and outstanding errors were elaborated-on in the margins of the theme, and Eaton expected corrections to be made,” said Fringer.
Former Westminster High School football coach, Jim Head, who was another one of my many favorite teachers, was also a fellow teacher and good friend of Eaton’s. Head once wrote, “Mike was not for too much seriousness or self-absorption. ... He became for me a teacher in the art of living…
“Mike never drove a car, but he traveled in body and spirit farther than anybody I’ve ever known. Mike … nurtured, he encouraged, and he expected only excellence from generations of this community’s students.…”
In Carroll County’s history, there have been a number of snow and winter events that have tested the community. On Feb. 15-18, 2003, 28.2 inches fell on Westminster in what has become to be known as “the President’s Day Snowstorm.” This was one of the worst snowstorms in Westminster’s history.
At Eaton’s memorial service on April 29, 1995, Rev. David Helfrich, then-pastor at Grace Lutheran said: “‘Indubitably,’ I’ve never heard anyone use that word except for Mike Eaton, and if he used it once, he used it a thousand times. Indubitably, Mike Eaton was a great man …
“Through him we learned about honesty. … If you didn’t want to know what Mike thought of you, you better not ask him … because if you’d asked him, he would have told you and he would have pulled no punches.
“Through him we learned about love; love of self, love of others, and love of God. … There was not a more graceful person that I have ever known and I’m here to tell you that if everyone lived their life with as much love and grace as Mike Eaton did, this world would be a better place in which to live,” said Helfrich.
In the many years since I graduated from high school I have written about Eaton on numerous occasions. Portions of this discussion about Eaton have been previously published in a number of local and national publications.
I was fortunate to have him as my English teacher in 1970-1971 at Westminster High School. Eaton always gave me extra writing assignments; all of which were absolutely unmercifully corrected as by then I had developed, according to him, many bad writing habits; including my “overuse” of semi-colons; which drove him nuts.
For the next 25 years, I did landscaping for Eaton and I turned in at least one short story to him about once a month from the time I left Westminster High School until his death.
Since 2011 a Mike Eaton Scholarship has been awarded annually to recognize inspirational teachers, like Eaton, in the lives of the current graduating class of Westminster High School. One of the requirements of the scholarship is that the student write an essay about their most inspirational teacher.