Smorgasbord Blog Magazine – Guest Posts – #Influencers – A Tribute to One of My Role Models by Pete Springer

Recently I shared a short series on people how I considered an been a positive influence in my life, either by teaching me to read and write, that dreams can come true, that human kindness comes in many forms or by helping me transition into a responsible adult.

Of course our parents and other members of the family have a direct impact on who we are today, but for me in addition there are those who came and went in my life, but whilst there, changed the way I looked at life in general and my own future.

This series is about the person you feel has had the most influence on your life and has shaped the person you are today, and what you have achieved. That might be in reaching personal goals or to do with your career.

This is of course also a marketing opportunity for your blog and books, and a showcase of your writing skills.

At the end of the post I have shared the links to my recent series so you can see how it might look when posted.

To kick off this new series, a post from Pete Springer which was shared on his blog earlier in the year and is the perfect example of a tribute to a role model or influencer who has made a difference to your life…

Happy Birthday to One of My Role Models—Val Arizzi

Bravery is usually associated with those who potentially risk their lives each day for us, such as soldiers, police officers, and firefighters. There is no question that we should be grateful for their sacrifices to help keep us safe, but bravery can come in many forms besides those professions.

Some of the most courageous stories that I know of involve immigrants. How fearless do you have to be to come to another country, not speaking the language, knowing very few people, all hoping to improve your family’s life?

One such story involves that of the Arizzi family. Virgilio Arizzi left Genoa, Italy, in 1955 with a dream to create a new life for himself and his family in the United States. He settled in Elk River and went to work for the Senestraro family, who had previously come to America from Italy, on their dairy farm. Two years later, in December of 1957, Virgilio’s wife, Elvira, and their three kids, Ermanno (10), Valerie (6), and Isa (3), sailed across the Atlantic Ocean from Genoa to New York City. The two-week sailing trip was miserable for the entire family as everyone suffered from seasickness below deck in the ship’s hold. It was also not a pleasant trip because of the crowded conditions and poor food. Ermanno had taken some English lessons before the family’s departure, and the family relied on his limited English skills to get by during the trip.

The Arizzi Family (Back row—Virgilio, Ermanno, and Elvira.)
(Front row—Val and Isa)

Val Arizzi (what a cutie!)

After coming into New York Harbor, (Ellis Island was closed at the time), the family took the train from New York City to San Francisco with other stops along the way. While they no longer had to deal with seasickness, conditions were frigid, traveling on the train in December.

Reuniting with their dad in Elk River, Ermanno and Valerie attended school in California just one month later. Brave? Yes. Gutsy? Yes. Unthinkable? No, because this was a gamble that many immigrants were willing to take. For the Arizzi’s, it certainly proved to be a good bet. Virgilio went to work for the Senestraro family on their dairy farm in Eureka (Elk River) for many years, and he and Elvira lived a happy life, raising three terrific kids who have gone on to make their mark in the education world. Ermanno was an Ag teacher at Eureka High School for many years. Val taught for a short time at St. Bernard’s and then worked at Humboldt St. Isa still works for North Coast Children Services.

Virgilio and Elvira came to America not speaking any English, but in the late 1960s became American citizens when they passed the citizenship test.

I’m telling this story because, without their bravery, Valerie (Val) would not have become an influential person in my life. Val is celebrating a milestone birthday today, and I want her to know how much I appreciate what she did for me.

Moving from rural North Dakota to California when I was starting high school was a bit of a culture shock for this naïve teenager. I was indeed a fish out of water when I first arrived. Walking into a new high school when I didn’t know anyone was a bit intimidating.

Sometime in my early high school years, Val came into my life as a youth minister for CYO (Catholic Youth Organization). As an impressionable teen, I needed the positive influence that she provided as I found my way. She was a spunky lady with a big personality. I liked her immediately. She had an infectious laugh and was fun to be around. We teased her lovingly, and she could dish it back just as well.

Val and Pete

One of my core beliefs is that we all need role models in our lives, and Val was that for me. People can be leaders in many ways—Val led by example through her actions. I don’t remember all her lessons, but I recall her making me feel good about myself. Val’s actions remind me of one of my favorite quotes by American poet and civil rights activist, Maya Angelou, who once said, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

When I graduated from high school, I was still searching for what I wanted to do with my life. Being around people like Val made me think about working with kids. One of my first educational experiences was as a camp counselor at the same summer camp I attended in high school. I was suddenly in charge of a different group of elementary-age kids each week. It was an enormous responsibility for an eighteen-year-old to be out in the woods on overnight hikes with kids who may have had little to no experience camping before.

I went on to become an elementary school teacher for thirty-one years, and I’d like to think that I was a good role model for my students. I wasn’t a perfect teacher—far from it, but my students knew that I cared and would do whatever I could for them.

My first class (5th and 6th grade) I’m the young-looking guy at the top center.

One of the fun discoveries I learned when writing this article was finding out that I share another connection with the Arrizi’s. I got the opportunity to teach two of the Senestraro boys, Seth and Jesse. They were two of the smartest and nicest students one could ever hope to teach. They have gone on to do important things in their lives. Seth is a dentist; Jesse is a nurse.

I exchanged text messages with Seth when I was about to write this article. He recalled Virgilio living on the farm until his passing and saw him all the time growing up. Seth remembered hearing that Ermanno was a role model in FFA for his stepdad and his uncles. The connections get amazingly deep as Seth got to visit his grandpa’s village in Italy a couple of years ago and met lots of the Arizzi cousins and distant family members. It is a truly remarkable story that from this isolated tiny village of a few thousand people, many Italian families reconnected in Humboldt County in northern California.

When we get a chance to influence someone’s life positively, we should take that opportunity. The metaphor that I think of is that we are like relay runners in a race. Someone hands off the baton to us, and we run with it for as long as we can. We give it our all until it’s time to pass it on to the next runner. I’ve passed on that baton now to my students, and I want them to run like the wind. I wish my good friend, Val, the happiest of birthdays and thank her for carrying that baton to hand off to me.

(left to right) Pete, Val, my amazing wife Debbie, and our dear friend, Joyce

©Pete Springer 2021

My thanks to Pete for sharing this wonderful tribute to Val Arizzi who clearly had an amazing influence on his life and career.

About Pete Springer

I’m a retired elementary teacher (31 years) who will always be a strong advocate for children, education, and teachers. My favorite thing to do as a teacher was to read to my students, and now I’m following my heart and writing children’s books for middle grades.

One of the five star reviews for They Call Me Mom

Pete Springer’s memoir about his first years teaching is a delightful story for new teachers and will have experienced educators nodding along with him. His early experiences remind all of us of the joy inherent in teaching:

“This job required about as much brainpower as my tree planting experience.”
“This is the story of how I fell in love with teaching and the joys and challenges that this noble profession provided to me over the course of thirty-one years.”

He breaks the book into chapters every teacher will understand:

How did i get here
Setting up your classroom
Working with students
Working with colleagues
Working with your boss

…and more. Aside from grading, parents, lunch duty, conferences, and yard duty, these are the biggest issues we teachers face. I’m a veteran teacher of thirty years and still I couldn’t wait to read Pete’s take on these timeless issues.

“Instead of saying, “Do everything my way, and you can become a successful teacher,” she was giving me her permission to find my way.”
“…storytelling was one of the most successful methods to get my students to pay attention.”
“…when we lose our calm, we are teaching them that it is okay to behave in this manner when something is not going right.”

Every new teacher will benefit from Pete’s daily experiences of what in the end results in a journey well traveled with more importance than most of us would car eto admit. Educational philosophies change. Favorite tools like iPads and Chromebooks change. What never changes is the fundamentals that Pete covers in this book:

“…tell the kids when I made similar mistakes growing up.”
“I do think that it is possible for parents or schools to provide too many rewards for kids.”

Overall an excellent book. If you’re a new teacher, I’d call this an essential read prior to your first day.  

Read the reviews and buy the book: Amazon US – and:Amazon UK – Read more reviews:Goodreads – Website: Pete Springer WordPressTwitter: @OfficerWoof

Some guidelines.

  • If you look back at your life, who would you say had the most influence on who you are today or your life’s achievements?
  • It might be a parent, grandparent, or other relation, perhaps a teacher, employer or someone who you only encountered for a brief period, but changed the course of your life in a positive way.
  • It might be someone you have never met but influenced you in another way such as by their actions or a book that you read by them. This is a tribute to that person.
  • It can be a post your have already written or one that is unpublished.
  • If already published just send me the link.
  • I will top and tail the post with the usual links and a recent review etc.
  • This is an opportunity to show off your writing skills and to encourage readers to follow your blog or buy your books…dress to impress.

What I need from you sent to my email

If you are have been promoted here before.

I just need your word document 1000 to 1500 words and two or three photographs to break up the text.. perhaps of you at that stage in your life or one of the person who you are writing about.

If they are an author then an Amazon link so I can copy the cover of their book or books with a link.

If you have not been featured on the blog before

  • In addition to the word document and photographs for the post I will need your information.
  • A profile photograph, up to date biography, social media links for website or blog, Facebook, Twitter, or Linkedin.
  • If you are an author your Amazon Author page, Goodreads and Bookbub if you are there too.

Once I have received your post

  • I will schedule and let you have the date.
  • On the day of publication I will send you a link for the post.
  • It would be great if you could share your post on your social media.
  • I ask that all comments are responded to individually as it does make a difference to the number of times the post is shared.
  • When shared on social media I will tag you if you are on that platform and it would be great if you could thank the person who has shared the post..

I am looking forward to discovering the amazing people who have inspired you and sharing them here in this series… get in touch… thanks Sally.


Look forward to hearing from you soon… Sally.