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Published: Monday, 3/28/2005

Ex-teacher, 69, gets things done by keeping busy

BY ERICA BLAKE
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Retired teacher Winfred Falls works in his outboard engine repair shop on Wamba Avenue. Retired teacher Winfred Falls works in his outboard engine repair shop on Wamba Avenue.
SIMMONS / BLADE Enlarge

Winfred Fails has long believed that to get something done, you must enlist the help of a person who's busy.

That may be why the retired Toledo Public Schools teacher finds himself running between St. Paul Baptist Church, where he's volunteered for years, to the John H. McKissick Senior Apartments to drop off food. And why Mr. Fails, a vocal advocate of education, has spent many of his summers teaching math to area autoworkers who hope to better themselves through continued education.

Known to most as Fred, Mr. Fails has been the one people go to when they need to get things done. Because of his commitment to his family, the community, and his faith, Mr. Fails, 69, tends to succeed.

"Fred is one of the really great human beings that I've ever had the privilege to work with," said Francine Lawrence, president of the Toledo Federation of Teachers.

That's because the excellence Mr. Fails demanded of his students as a math teacher for 33 years in East Toledo's Waite High School is the same expectations he has of himself.

Born in Greenville, Ala., the 12th child of 13 children, Mr. Fails moved to Toledo in 1957 after graduating from Jarvis Christian College in Texas. He landed a job as a teacher with Toledo Public Schools. Although recognizing his students might find it unfortunate to have a teacher named Mr. Fails, the longtime educator said he loved working with the high schoolers, and even coached some of them in basketball.

But it was his work as a member of the Toledo Federation of Teachers that left a resonating impact on the district. As a longtime member of the organization's negotiating committee, Mr. Fails is credited with helping to shape the benefits and working conditions at the district today, said Mrs. Lawrence.

Since retirement, Mr. Fails has become active with the group's retirees chapter, initiating regular meetings, she added.

When not working to help educators, Mr. Fails is helping out senior citizens. One of the original conceptualists of the John H. McKissick Senior Apartment complex, Mr. Fails continues to serve on the project's board and regularly brings trunks full of food to distribute to the 12 elderly people who live there.

"I've been involved with the project since raising the money to buy the land in 1985 and I wanted to stay with it," he said.

Berene Miller, president of the St. Paul Senior Citizen's Project, Inc., said the complex began as a way to help elderly members of their church. Similar to his work with the district, it was Mr. Fails' efforts that helped bring the complex to life.

"We try to help [the seniors] in every type of way we can," Mrs. Miller said. Mr. Fails "was in at the beginning of it; he's been there since when it was on the ground floor."

But ask Mr. Fails and he won't elaborate on his accomplishments or the volunteer work he continues to busy himself with. Instead, Mr. Fails would rather talk about his cramped workshop on Wamba Avenue, where a full pot of coffee is brewing and jazz music is pumped through speakers hidden in the clutter. There, among the oils and tools necessary for repairing outboard motors for boats, Mr. Fails meets and greets fellow retirees and friends who tend to stop by and talk about what fish are biting on Lake Erie.

Mr. Fails had plans one day to make the garage into a repair business for boats. But since most of his work was done as favors to friends and his volunteer activities have left him little extra time, the building has become more of a senior center for men, his wife, Trudy Heintz Fails, said.

"We don't make much of an effort to get together," admitted Mr. Fails, with his black Labrador retriever, Goliath, lying contentedly nearby. "They just know I'm here, most in the summer, and they stop by."

Contact Erica Blake at: eblake@theblade.com or 419-724-6076.



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