A Lost Hero

July 23rd, 2009 by beazerwriter

This summer I lost one of my heroes. He was a great teacher, mentor, and friend. I never once stepped into Burnie Battles office that he didn’t drop everything to talk to me.

I was at Tyler Bend Campground on the Buffalo National River in Arkansas. Stephanie and I had just finished a marathon weekend after taking 10 teenagers down the river earlier. We had gone home bought food, cleaned gear, had a job interview, scrambled to find a replacement volunteer for the second week, and driven our second week’s worth of teenagers to Arkansas. As we were setting up the campground I got a text message with the news. I felt like some one punched me in the gut.

Mr. Battles was an inspiration to me in so many ways. As a recreation major he seemingly taught half of my classes. I had at least one class each day with him often more. His love for taking people, especially kids, outside always came through in everything he taught. I will always remember Mr. Battles energy he could run circles around any of us. Even in a class half composed of collegiate athletes. His class was never complete without a good laugh. I still can hear his jeers as he watched us try team building activities. Usually it revolved around how he had seen some 5 th graders or other young population do it twice as fast as us. If you have never had a professor make a hat out of newspaper or sing “Three Short Necked Buzzards” with motions then you missed out. Mr. Battles could have taught camp counseling, first aid, ropes course, and many other classes halfhearted but he didn’t. Everything was done full of gusto. Mr. Battles was real and every student knew whether it was their first class with him or 80th.

You could feel the authenticity the moment you stepped into Mr. Battles classroom. He cared about each student and he was not about to teach his bit and leave. No, Mr. Battles wanted each student to know the material and use it to the point of perfection. Mr. Battles had this amazing ability to turn completely red. If someone did something unsafe or continually put forth a half way effort, he would turn bright red from the top of his head all the way down. Usually the person never repeated that behavior again. One time after our class had become frustrated with Mr. Battles constant demand for perfection and grumbled he turned and told us a story. He told us about watching a young boy die when he was kid at camp. The adults weren’t watching the pool well enough and they didn’t know how to respond when they saw the boy under the water. That was one of the many things that framed who he was. Everything Mr. Battles taught came from a real life experience he had and if you stuck around long enough you would hear some amazing stories.

The last thing I wanted to write about was Mr. Battles and Camp John Marc. Camp John Marc is a special camp for kids with medical needs. Mr. Battles was a constant advocate recruiting volunteers for the camp and he was loved presence for the kids. I had the opportunity to volunteers on several weekends. Weekends that Mr. Battles was not there. Countless kids who had met Mr. Battles years prior asked about him and they missed him greatly. I was amazed. I went back into the classroom with a deep respect for the man teaching me.

Mr. Battles was committed to God, his family, his students, Baylor and to the campers of John Marc. My life was forever changed by Burnie Battles. I am one small part of his great legacy. I will miss him.

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  • I just want to thank you for writing such a special tribute about my Dad, Burnie Battles. My older brother, Aaron, came across your letter on the web and emailed it to my Mom, brother and me. I am also a graduate of BU and had the opportunity to take one of my Dad’s sailing and canoeing classes. Your description of how he taught and his expectations is so true!! He also introduced me to Camp John Marc several years ago, where I later volunteered and became a rope’s course intructor myself. It was so special to see my Dad in a different way and to see him do the silly things that embarrassed me as a teenager that then put the biggest smiles on kids faces. I had a new respect for my Dad. Anyway – I just wanted to thank you for your comments. It sounds like you and your wife are starting the same kind of journies that my parents did together for many years. I wish you both the best! Chrissy Battles-Hopper