Doug Forbes is Vandalia born and raised and it doesn’t take me long to figure out that he knows this community inside and out. A 1995 VCHS graduate, except for the four years he spent on his undergrad at Union University in Jackson, Tennessee, he’s been here the whole time. This is his twenty-second year as a teacher in the district, and between his role as the FCA sponsor and Physics, Chemistry, Physiology, and Anatomy teacher, he’s found a meaningful niche.
Making a commitment,
making a difference.
During his first year in college, he reflected a great deal on how he might like to declare his major and as he considered all the teachers and coaches who made a difference in his life, he determined that he, too, would like to make a difference in kids’ lives and saw education as the perfect vehicle.
Our conversation turns to what it’s like teaching in the school you attended, in your hometown. Doug tells me about the kids he’s seen come through VCHS and go on to do some truly amazing things. He’s proud of them, sure, but there’s also the unmistakable imprint of fulfillment that attaches to his words and to his tone. [Note to self: He picked the right career] I ask him about the breadth of student interest in the STEM fields, and he explains that trends have shifted a bit during his career and that many students today are choosing to pursue the vocational trades instead of committing to a four-year path. In many cases, he explains, they’ll earn just as much, if not more, than their college-educated counterparts. But he is quick to point out that VCHS is still producing plenty of college-bound kids who will become engineers, lawyers, doctors, scientists, business leaders, and even teachers. On reflection, he makes the point that, “Maybe it was a mistake to sort of shove everybody toward a college degree 20 years ago,” and that he respects the efforts the school is making today to find the best fit for every student by really seeing them.
Doug Forbes is a man who chooses his words carefully, so when I ask him about Vandalia and how he’d describe it to a stranger in Florida or Colorado, he was precise. “I’d tell them that it's a rural community that’s heavily involved with agriculture and a wide range of socioeconomic status, with folks that really want to help one another out.” I took that as the Doug Forbes Wikipedia entry. After a long pause, what followed was the Doug-Forbes-from-the-heart-edition: He walked me through the tragic events of late 2019 and spoke of the immensity of hurt that reverberated through every home and church in the community, how everyone was touched and how everyone pitched in to do what they could to help one another heal, cope, or just get through another day. Everyone, he said, played a role as best they could. He shared the stories of community fellowship across the region, in every direction, and how moving it was for the school and for the entire community. It was a moment, he said, of the deepest pain a community could suffer, but that it was also— my words— his community’s finest hour in the way everyone came together as an extended family.
Of the twelve people I’ve interviewed for this issue, to a person, every single one has told me a story of their connection to this place that is very much like family. And, upon reflection, I think that is your greatest strength. Through everything these last three years have delivered to your door, you have remained in place for one another. That is your greatest strength.