|A WIZARD WITH WORDS|
|January 09, 2005 12:00 am|
Before he even pulls the door all the way open, the children in Room 10 begin to squeal.
"He's here! He's here!"
The second-graders in Janet Gerlach's Kalmiopsis Elementary School class know it's him the one they've been waiting for before they see his face.
It must be the cape.
After all, a floor-length cape woven from tapestry patterned with books and topped with a pointed hood is hard to miss.
And so now is Earl Mohr, Reading Wizard of Odd, as he roams the halls between classrooms at Kalmiopsis in Brookings and Riley Creek School in Gold Beach.
On Thursday at Kalmiopsis he reads "Aesop's Fables" to Gerlach's second-graders.
Mohr's college theatre training helps him breathe life into the story's characters. A hungry fox, cunning rooster and loyal dog jump off the page and into the laps of children who sit cross-legged on the floor, squeezed into an intimate semi-circle.
As he writes the moral of the story on Gerlach's white board, the children follow along, sounding out the words as they appear letter by letter.
At last they read together, "Those who try to deceive may expect to be paid in their own coin."
Next, Ken Olsen's third-graders get a special story, one that Mohr dedicates to their teacher with a theatrical grin: "Olson's Meat Pies."
And he reads Dan Rotterman's first-graders a Canadian fable from the book "Eleven Nature Tales."
When Mohr, 62, began reading at Riley Creek School five years ago, he started with "Wisdom Tales From Around the World," short oral stories from across the globe.
He still reads a variety of these stories, "trying to give the kids some kind of a grounding in other cultures."
For Mohr, becoming the Reading Wizard began with an end.
Six years ago Mohr's wife of 22 years, the mother of his three daughters, died from breast cancer.
Michele Ann Tiano-Mohr was 51 and the special education director for Curry County.
She'd devoted 36 years of her professional life to special education, Mohr says.
She was passionate about every child's right to education and she taught her two oldest daughters, now in their 20s, about her passion.
The couple's youngest daughter, Briana Tiano-Mohr, came unexpectedly when Michele Ann was in her mid-40s.
Briana was just 7 when her mother died.
Mohr talks often of Michele Ann, of her philosophies and her passions, her struggles and her sacrifices.
He relays tender family stories wearing a smile laced with sorrow, his eyes betraying a temporary trip into another world, one of memories and imagination.
"Because Michele so believed in education, I just really wanted to, after she died, carry on that belief that education is for every kid," Mohr says.
"That way Briana knows the ethic her mom believed in is being carried on."
"It's one of the basic trampolines of our society," he adds. "Education is there always to catch and return, push up again."
Perhaps in becoming the Reading Wizard, Mohr found a trampoline of his own.
He began reading a year after his wife died, just a couple times at Riley Creek School.
"I had so much fun at it," Mohr says.
A good friend, Donna Marie Price, saw how much he loved it and encouraged him to do more.
He spent a year reading upon request and his life began to change.
"I started writing again," he says. "I started getting involved in the community. I started picking up a lot of pieces (left) after Michele Ann had died."
Holidays have been especially hard since her death.
But this year, Mohr says, was a little different.
He started reading at Kalmiopsis before Christmas.
During the school break, his spirits got a lift when he ran into Kalmiopsis children in a Brookings market who recognized him as the Reading Wizard.
"Instead of feeling sorry for myself, I'm feeling quite capital," he says.
"This has been a heck of a good year."
About a year after Mohr started reading, Price created the wizard cape, and with it a persona that continues to grow.
As Mohr walks from class to class Thursday, students stop in the halls to say hello.
Some give him a quick hug, trying to wrap their tiny arms around the formidable cloak.
He becomes a different character for everyone, from a gravelly curmudgeon to a carefree sprite.
"Getting the cape has been kind of fun," Mohr says.
"The minute I walk into Riley Creek, or here, it's like a neon sign that says, He's here.'
"I get to enter into a world of my own imagination," Mohr says. "I don't have to pay attention to the real world."