After William B. "Bill" Chisholm died in 2012, more than 70 people left complimentary, glowing messages in an online obituary "guest book" about the former Minnetonka High School English teacher and department chair.
The postings, as well as recollections from Chisholm's former colleagues, paint a vivid picture of him as a great teacher who at times used unusual methods and a dry wit to bring out the best in his students' writing and understanding of literature. Extremely hard-working, he could be found poring over student essays any time of the day or night and writing extensive, insightful feedback. He was tough but fair, caring but not overly "mushy," as one colleague notes. And, non-judgmental about his students' academic abilities, as he would work tirelessly with any student who wanted help.
Perhaps Dick Engebretsen best summed up what many students felt. "Willie B. Chisholm was the best teacher I ever had back at Minnetonka High School, in the early '60s. He was demanding, caring and somewhat mysterious, which made him all the more popular. He didn't settle for anything less than excellence. They don't make them like Mr. Chisholm anymore."
Student after student referred to him as one of the best, if not the best, teacher they ever had, be it in high school, college or graduate school.
"My brother always said that he thought Mr. Chisholm's class was tough, maybe too tough for him," former student Charlanne (Davies) Kallay '63 said. "But he always said that everything he learned about grammar, writing and literature, he learned and learned it well from Mr. Chisholm. For me, personally, he opened up my world to the power and creativity of writing and I loved every minute of it."
She recalls Chisholm as being "a captivating and somewhat unusual, literary man who called his students Mr. and Miss. And he had a way of keeping you interested in class all day, every day."
"He was called to be a teacher, it was his gift," said Tom Bauman, a fellow English teacher who, upon becoming the MHS principal in 1968, named Chisholm chair of the English Department. "I honestly think Bill felt more highly about his students' potential than they thought of themselves. That's the kind of teacher he was, which I think helped build the students' self-esteem."
Fellow English teacher Glen Skoy began his long tenure at MHS as a student teacher when Chisholm was department chair.
"I am so thankful to have worked with him as I started teaching," Skoy said. "He wanted all of the English teachers, even young ones like me, to develop their own courses. He helped us along and showed us how to use our creativity so that the students could choose from a variety of classes that would really help them develop as writers and readers of literature. That's what it was all about for Bill. He wanted rigorous classes that would prepare our students for college and wanted them to be literate in whatever careers they chose."
As for his somewhat unusual, effective teaching methods, Chisholm taught a course called "Cabbage and Kings," in reference to Lewis Carroll's "Alice in Wonderland." He also talked plenty about the arts, such as poetry, music and the visual arts. And, in addition to holding writing and poetry competitions, he had his students engage in spelling exercises in which they were required to add "weird" to the middle of each word.
"He was very funny, but his wit was dry and people didn't always know when he was joking," Bauman recalls. "For example, he kept a skull on his desk and told his students that it was from a former student who did not meet his expectations."
Like many well-respected teachers, students are what drove Chisholm. After a career that spanned more than 30 years, he retired from Minnetonka High School, but not the profession. In fact, he and his wife, Gretchen, headed to Istanbul, Turkey, where they both taught for several years at the Uskudar American Academy.
It seems he was as well thought of there as he was back in Minnetonka.
"I can easily say that Mr. Chisholm was the best teacher I ever had," wrote former Uskudar student Amra Passic.