‘Val was a really good teacher, and a good person,’
By Mark Squibb | Vol. 32 No. 50 (Feb. 27, 2020)
If you’re a Holy Spirit alumnus of the 1970s and 1980s, you may remember being called a dough head.
It was a favorite term of Val Druken (Mr. Druken to students of course), used so comically as to be a term of endearment to his students.
Druken, a much-liked and popular teacher during those years, passed away last fall at age 73, following a short illness.
“He was a real pleasant man. He didn’t mind working— he worked right up to the last night he took sick,” said his wife Rona. “I don’t think he ever complained about anything. He was pleasant, nothing ever got on his nerves. He would never get mad about anything.”
But to the many students who knew him, Druken could make a show of pretending he was mad, though it didn’t fool anyone.
Peter Gladstone ‘Glad’ Duff was vice-principal of Holy Spirit High during the Druken days and remembers him fondly.
“Val was a really good teacher, and a good person,” said Duff, also a distant cousin of Druken. “The kids loved Val. He had a sense of humour— really sharp, dry wit. He was such a witty, witty guy. He was a really sharp fellow. In university, Val could always bust A’s in courses, without cracking a book, while we’d be killing ourselves studying.”
In fact, Druken was ahead of his time with some of his teaching methods, being the first teacher many students encountered, who staged impromptu, ‘open book’ tests and quizzes. He even sometimes allowed students to help each other as they worked on some routine tests. Druken knew that for some students, it was the only time they would ever crack the spine of a text and be exposed to the knowledge inside.
Outside his teaching career, Druken was well involved in the community, serving as a Grand Knight with the Knights of Columbus and also a volunteer.
“He was a do-er, and somebody I could rely on. Quiet, and very laid back. But if you needed something done, he was there in the forefront,” said Knights of Columbus Holy Spirit Council 6792 trustee Wayne Lacey. “He was there fi you needed something. He was invaluable in that regard.”
Lacey remembers a recent attempt to resurface some flooring in the building. The procedure was not done right, and the results were — “botched,” to use Lacey’s term.
“When Val looked at that, I thought he was going to break his jaw it dropped that far that fast,” said Lacey.
He said it’s the one of the few times he can ever remember ever Val using a profanity, though his language could be colourful in other ways.
Now, Lacey is committed to restoring the floor in Druken’s memory.
“This is my memorial to my friend and fellow knight,” he said.
From his famous blue convertible in the 70s to his unique teaching style, Druken had a unique way about him, unaffected and natural. He enjoyed fish and brewis (with scrunchions of course), Tim Horton’s dark roast coffee, and visiting Tiny’s Bar and Grill, where he used to put just a little money in the lottery machine for fun, but never enough to win anything big.
He was an avid reader, and would often loan out his books and trade with others in town.
“Val was well-known, because was a school teacher, and a student, and he was a grand Knight in the Knights of Columbus for a good many years, and he did bingo down to Power’s Court. He was involved,” said wife Rona. “He loved to read. That’s all he did, read, read, read. I said, ‘Val, do you ever get sick of reading?’ ‘No, he said,’” recalls Rona.
He was also an avid walker, and enjoyed being outside in the fresh air.
“To get in the car and go to the store, he used to often say to me, ‘Now Rona, that’s awful lazy what you’re doing, and this a lovely day,’” she joked. “And I used to say, ‘No, I’m going to take the car and go.’”
In his later years, the apple of Druken’s eye was his great-grandson Brennan, 10.
“He used to love coming down and spending time with pop. He used to sleep over. He really thought a lot about him,” said Rona.
Brennan and Pop would spend plenty of time together, whether walking to the beach, hunting for painted rocks, doing things around the yard, or telling stories.
“He told lots of stories, and was a really good listener,” Brennan said of his pop.
Druken was also well-loved by residents of Cluney’s Restwell Manor, where he worked doing everything; escorting residents around town, clearing pathways through the snow, cutting meat and chopping onions, and doing security.
“The residents thought the world of him. He never used to get mad,” recalled Rona, who also works at the retirement centre. “They would ask, ‘Is Val on tonight? Is Val working tonight?’ They used to love to see him coming.”
This January would have marked 55 years for the couple, who met while Rona was a young woman working at the Sanitorium on Topsail Road.
Another friend, Gordon Whitty, helped set the couple up.
“‘Val,’ he said, ‘I’ve got a date for you. Come out to the Sanitorium with me. And many times, we would say, ‘I shouldn’t of listened to Gord at all,’” Rona joked. “How many times did we say that.”
She can remember their first date, both of them too nervous to say anything.
“I was looking at him, and he was looking at me, and neither one of us spoke. We were right shy,” she laughed.
A date or two later, the couple warmed to each other.
She can remember Druken coming to pick her up from work at the Sanitorium. She would have to be home by midnight to meet curfew.
“The girls said, ‘Oh my God, what a cute fellow down there in an army suit, and he’s looking for you Rona,” she laughed.
They got married when Rona was 19. And the rest of course, is history.