Thanksgiving for a Local Hero

By Paul Dorsey

Jack Collins gets laughs dressed up for Halloween.

Jack Collins gets laughs for a Halloween getup.


Around Delaware, turkey dinners and turkey bowls will soon give way to impromptu class reunions.

On one such recent occasion, my grade school classmates gathered to reminisce shortly after one of our favorite teachers, Jack Collins, passed away. Looking at the pictures on Facebook the next day, I thought about the significant and lasting influence one teacher had on all of us, and so many more.

Earlier that week, I had been driving by our old parochial school when I happened to switch on the Springsteen channel on satellite radio. The lyrics seemed to be written for Mr. Collins…

“Who was that man? She said — ‘Just a local hero. Local hero,’ — she said with a smile. ‘Yeah, a local hero. He used to live here for a while.’”

Picture a day in the life of Jack Collins, circa 1980. He was up before dawn to drive Yellow Bus #1. After the first group of kids was delivered, the same bus had a new name, Yellow Bus #2. Jack’s second entourage would arrive at school just minutes before the bell rang.

Right from the bus and into the classroom. Jack spent mornings teaching social studies and reading. At St. Mary Magdalen, he shared his students with Mrs. DiMuzio, Mrs. Kingston, Mrs. Luongo, Sister David Ann and Mrs. McMenamin. He was truly a man blessed among women. He thought he kept the ladies in check, but they had the upper hand. Oh and I can’t forget the stout, slow-moving, and spectacled Sister Michael, a 110-year-old nun of sharp tongue and quick wit. Mr. Collins always showed her complete respect with a dash of humor and made damn sure that we followed his example.

Students and athletes looked up to him. We only had last names. If you had a problem with Mr. Collins, it wasn’t personal. You probably didn’t study hard enough. Maybe you didn’t give it your all at practice. He held you accountable.

He ate lunch in our classroom. Twenty minutes later, it was time for recess and intramural football. As the league commissioner and referee, he ran an 8-classroom league complete with standings. When the bell rang, regardless of the score, he clasped his hands up high and bellowed, “Ballgame!” Head and shoulders above us, he led us back to class with a twinkle in his eye and a grin of satisfaction. No sympathy for the losing team.

Afternoons were for “Current Events Trivia.” Girls against the boys. If you knew the president of Peru or the secretary of state, you might be the champs. If not, you were a chump.

Exams were hand-written in purple ink. Jack didn’t care about aesthetics, just material. Fill-in-the-blanks, multiple choice and matching with extra points for knowing the score of the girls’ basketball game the day before. You should have been at the game to support the team.

One night Jack arrived home late from a game and found a bowl full of meatballs in the fridge. When he complimented his wife on her great cooking, she said, “Jack, that was the dog’s food!” The next day he had a special snack in his brown lunch bag. As he sat at his big metal desk, he shook his head with a chuckle, held up the dog biscuit and told us about his dinner. He taught us not to take ourselves too seriously.

Monica, one of my classmates who played basketball for Mr. Collins, summed it up well:

“Honestly, outside of my dad, he was the biggest male influence on my young life, and certainly remains a huge influence as an adult.”

He was a leader. He treated us like adults. He told us stories about his grade school. He was simultaneously in charge of us and one of us.

With Jack Collins, it all boiled down to what was important for his students: Teaching them to prepare. Teaching them to compete. Teaching them how to participate with respect and compassion in the game of life.

Jack’s job was to sculpt a group of rag-tag middle-schoolers into respectable, hard-working young men and women. He did it well year after year after year.

We have all had a Mr. Collins in our lives. So when you are out there with old friends over Thanksgiving weekend, don’t forget to raise a glass for that teacher that made your world a special place and helped you become the person you are today.

Paul Dorsey was born and raised in Wilmington. He is married with two daughters.

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27 Comments

  • Thanks Paul for writing such a wonderful remembrance of an amazing man who touched so many lives and who modeled daily service to others and how we should live our lives. A true hero!

  • thx paul..Mr collins was a good dude….i used to go the brandywine race track with my grandpop pierce..and who was there…yup mr collins even worked there in the evenings as security…Omg i ws shocked..this guy drove the bus.taught classes..drove the bus again.then coached all us kids in basketball..he was a damn good coach..kevin was in my bro class and patrick was in my class..good memories for sure

  • Great article about Mr. Collins. Off-the-Wall! – he might say.
    I was Yellow Bus 1 and recall on one or two occasions he would come to pick us up but instead of stopping to let us on, he’d keep on going and laugh at the stunned looks on our faces as he waved and passed us by. He’d stop to let us on, of course, a few blocks away. As he dropped us off at school, he would occasionally ask me to run down to the soda machine and buy him a Coke to go with his Chocolate Ring Dings that he kept on the dash of the bus to power him through his Yellow #2 route. You can’t forget great moments like that.

  • I posted this on a STMM facebook page, and this article has already received over 55 likes! I came here and saw all these great comments! I’m sooooo happy to see all the positive responses to this article! Thanks so much, Paul for sharing your memories with us. Mr. Collins was most certainly a wonderful man. I always say I never knew as much about the world as I did in 7th and 8th grade… NAMES and TERMS! He made me love poli-sci… he made me LOVE reading. But most important, he taught me gratitude, self-awareness, and compassion. He was undoubtedly the most influential person (outside of my family) on my young life and my young mind. He led us girls to a basketball championship the 80 – 81 school year! The girls basketball team was bad ass! We had SOOOO MUCH FUN! I have so many great memories from practices and games and tournaments. It was a real blast. And it was because of Mr. Collins. I can go on and on and on. I am beyond thankful to have had him as a teacher, and later as a friend. I am grateful to Paul Dorsey for recognizing him through this venue and sharing Mr. Collins with all those who visit this site. He truly is a hero, in a way that is too often unrecognized. RIP Mr. John Collins.

  • Thank you,Paul, for sharing your memory of Mr. Collins with so many. As a mom of three who enjoyed his classes and coaching, I have to admit that I too benefited from his current events tests and the study sessions leading up to them. In the days when SMM did not have a gym, I learned my way around Wilmington, finding where practices and games were being held. Somehow,Jack Collins and the SMM team of teachers made junior high a good experience for parents too. Thanks for the memory of a truly unique and wonderful man.

  • In 7th & 8th grade I would watch Good Morning America while I got ready for school so I would know the answers to the current events questions. To this day, I still know where every state is and their capital thanks to Mr. Collins. He also made us know where every country was on a world map. I remember Mr Collins always had a 2 liter bottle of Coke in his classroom too. He was definitely one of my favorite teachers!

  • He was a good guy. Raised some good kids, in his house and in his school. We were all subject to parenting skills. He was fair and stern, and he never played favorites. You did your best, you were rewarded, you shirked, you sat. As one who often found himself, ‘in the hall’, it was always deserved. I ran into him years later at a convenience store, and it was he who called hello, over the shelves, by last name. Cheers Mr. C. We are all doing OK.

    • I used to run into him a lot at the 711 at 202 and Sharpley Road… He’d say… “Alvarez!” It was ALWAYS a pleasure to run into him. I loved it.

  • While reading this, I can remember ever detail you pointed out ike it was yesterday. Mr Collins was fun, stern and must have had patience of a saint to have made it through all five of us Barones, on the bus and in class, a dozen or so Looneys, Houghtons, Meleseccas, Rizzos and God knows how many more. His name came up at dinner time more than once for all SMM alum. He was truly a Dedicated teacher, who told us many times he wasn’t in it for the money. Great job with the article.

  • One of a kind!! Great to know so many remember him so fondly. It must be ten times a year me, my brothers, old classmates talk about those intramural football games, and his famous “Ball Game!!” The best.

  • Paul, Thank you so much for this fantastic tribute!

    I have tears in my eyes, you’ve made my holiday. He would be overjoyed to know the positive impact he’s had on all of your lives. Hopefully some of his students are still playing basketball!

  • I had the privilege of knowing Jack in high school. He always impressed me as a kind man who made a positive impression on those he met. It was so touching to read about all the loving, lasting impressions he made on so many of his students at SMM. Thank you, Paul, for remembering Jack Collins and reminding me that there are many persons in my life who have helped me along the way, and for that, I am deeply thankful.

  • Amazing article!! On point totally but just one more thing I have to add- the MacDonalds hamburger passes!! Whenever we did current events, get the right answer, get the free hamburger pass!! Mr Collins was a teacher that made a positive impact on every students life!! May he rest in peace!! Great article!!

  • Sardo is sitting with me he just read he article Paul, CHEERS MR COLLINS! You made your forever impression on both of us

  • Great article, Paul! You captured the man’s humanity – both his kindness and his sternness, as well as his willingness to work very, very hard and to really care about his students. How lucky you were to have him in your life!

  • Paul,

    Thank you for this excellent tribute. I am thrilled to see that the profound affect he had carries impact so many years later.

  • Great story and well written. We need more people like Mr. Collins who have had a positive influence on the youth. Respect and accountability are two words that haven’t attended school in several years and we need to bring them back. Articles like this reassure everyone that it’s still possible if we all take the time and effort to “teach” as Mr. Collins did and you characterized so well.