I attended Gorman Elementary School. Gorman was a school for kids with disabilities and located around the corner from United Cerebral Palsy and Dayton Children’s Hospital. I used to think it was ironic for all of the facilities to be located in the same area. I now know it was purposely set that way to be convenient for caregivers, just like a one stop shop. Gorman is also where I met Mr. Pete Lanasa.
Mr. Pete Lanasa, the principal of Gorman, stood what seemed like twelve feet tall. He was Italian and had a very deep voice. Although nice, the man was stern. He knew all the students by name and required us to have eye contact when conversing with him. He invoked a very important lesson in my young brain because now, I’m the queen of eye contact.
You never knew when Mr. Lanasa would pop in and have a seat. He would just stop in the classroom at any given time to check out what the kids were learning. We would always do our best by taking time to answer questions, just to impress him. I could see in his face how thrilled he was for the students trying to show off for him. He would reward us with a smile, hi-five or hand-shake. He would also pop in on therapy sessions to see how we were developing physically because if there was anything we needed, he was going to make sure we got it.
The one thing that has stayed with me till this day….making sure I never use the words, I CAN’T. I said it a few times and Mr. Lanasa would look over his glasses and say, “Shari Cooper, the word can’t is not in the dictionary”. Back then I was thinking this man has issues, does he not know I have a disability? As I grew older and wiser, I started to understand why Mr. Lanasa didn’t like those words. If you keep saying, “I can’t” it will eventually hinder you from even trying. Because of Mr. Lanasa’s philosophy, you will not catch me saying those words. Even when things are hard for me, I will not say them. Instead, I’ll figure out another way to get things done even if that means asking for assistance. It doesn’t matter how you get things done as long as they get done in the end.
I later found out Mr. Lanasa had a son with a disability. I now understand why he was so invested and compassionate about the students succeeding. Not only was he our principal, but a father who truly understood what it means to live with a disability.
When I moved into my first apartment, I needed some items in-order to enhance my independence. I found out Mr. Lanasa was over a foundation that could assist. Of course, I reached out to him and he was right there to help me once again.
Mr. Lanasa finally retired. His wife, Flo, found me on Facebook and sent me a message saying Mr. Lanasa wanted to talk to me, so I gave her my number. Mr. Lanasa left me a message saying he had read a column on RESPECT that I had written in the local paper. He wanted to let me know how proud he was of me. Talk about emotional! Mr. Lanasa helped transform me into a positive thinker who believes, I CAN and for that, I salute him. Thank you for your influence Mr. Lanasa!