Q&A with Reynold D. Willie | 5 Spot | Salt Lake City Weekly
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Q&A with Reynold D. Willie

A retired U.S. Navy nuclear submarine missile technician


  • Stan Rosenzweig

What could beat having a retired U.S. Navy nuclear submarine missile technician as your teacher? If you took a science or art class at Valley Junior High or Wasatch Junior High prior to 2003, there's a good chance that you scored Mr. Reynold D. Willie as your teacher.

How did you get to be a submarine missile technician?
After Brighton High School, I joined the Navy for a seven-year stint. There, I learned enough about nuclear physics in classrooms and through correspondence courses to be able to teach it to other sailors aboard.

And that got you interested in teaching?
When I got out, I went to the University of Utah, majoring in history and minoring in art. Then I got a master's in geography and became certified in teaching secondary education. I really enjoyed spending the next 26 years teaching science and art at Valley Junior High and Wasatch Junior High. I became chairman of the art department at Wasatch until the State Legislature started reducing funding for electives, especially for art studies. They passed legislation restricting teaching to those with majors in each subject and, of course, I only had a minor in art. I could stay and teach history, but not after working with motivated kids, especially the eight years I taught art to those in the gifted program. With legislative wisdom, they offered experienced teachers early retirement bonuses. So, I used that bonus, and a small bit extra, to accept something else they offered. They let me 'buy' four more years of teaching, boosting my 26 years to the 30 years needed for full retirement.

Sounds like legislators really messed up.
My beef with the Legislature was that they cut back funding for electives beyond art. They cut funding for trade skill shop classes like metalworking and woodworking, instead of helping kids who want good-paying trade jobs. Now we have a shortage of craft skills.

What do you do now?
During my teaching career, I served 17 years in the Utah Air National Guard and—20 years ago while still teaching—I joined the Fort Douglas Military Museum Association as a docent. I like being able to train visiting teachers about military history. I am trained in how best to access and display military items and I also am a trained curator. I have become the Fort Douglas Military Museum volunteer photographer.

Sounds like a happy life.
It has been a fulfilling career. I only wish I could have continued to teach art a little longer. I visited the Legislature when they were cutting electives and invited them to sit in on an elective class to see what's going on and talk with the students, but not one of them ever came.