50 years and still going strong: Pembroke community honors Social Studies teacher Greg Kinal
Greg Kinal vividly recalls the first time he set foot on the Pembroke Central High School grounds in the weeks leading up to the 1970-71 school year.
“I remember the first day I came here,” Kinal said earlier today, reflecting upon a teaching career in Dragon country that has reached the 50-year mark and shows no signs of ending. “You see that large sign (on the front of the main entrance). Well, the old sign was, and I’m not kidding, maybe this big (using his hand to show that the letters were maybe eight inches high) and made of steel.”
Kinal said he drove from his Elma home to his interview – the first time he had ever been to Genesee County – but wasn’t sure if he was in the right place.
“I didn’t know if this was the school. So, I pulled into the driveway and I remember squinting, looking at the sign, and then I saw Pembroke, and then I parked and went in for my interview,” he said. “And I remember distinctly the interview.”
He said he was hired by "Prof" Lane, the superintendent, and Mr. Choate.
“They called him Prof Lane and there was a reason – you didn’t talk back to Prof Lane,” he said. "And technology-wise, they gave me a piece of chalk and a chalkboard. Plus, I also got a paddle, and they told me to use it. Of course, times have changed since then.”
Yes, teaching has changed significantly over five decades, but Kinal’s classroom savvy and flair have set a standard of excellence that is valued by his colleagues, administrators, parents, grandparents and former students.
The community celebrated Kinal’s long and productive career today with a 50-vehicle parade that started at Pembroke Town Park and ended a short distance later at the school where he and his family waited to show their appreciation. The caravan was led by a Genesee County Sheriff’s patrol car and included a Village of Corfu police car driven by Officer David Drozdiel (in photo above with Kinal).
“This is unbelievable to me,” said Kinal, 72, who has taught eighth-grade Social Studies at Pembroke for all these years and now also teaches a 12th-grade Sociology class. “I think there are many deserving teachers in Genesee County and me being singled out, it’s very humbling to me.”
Kinal, a well-known expert of history who speaks frequently at events throughout Western New York, said his energy level hasn’t waned; in fact, he’s as enthusiastic as ever.
“They didn’t clinically diagnose me as ADHD*, but I’m convinced because I can’t sit still,” he said. “And I got to tell you, just to be home teaching virtually, I’m out of my mind. I need to be in these halls, I need to be walking and I thank God that I have this affliction because I’m just as crazy as my eighth-graders. I think the day that I’m not (full of energy) maybe it’s time (to retire). But not yet.”
He said he’s “in love” with the spirit exhibited by eighth-graders and is looking forward to continuing his annual practice of taking students to a field trip to Washington, D.C.
“We’re going on our 49th trip in June and a week later, the 50th, because I had to cancel this year,” he said. “The community is so good here and I would never leave.”
Alan Miano and Laurie Rudolph, who helped organize the parade, both graduated from Pembroke in 1980 and both gushed with admiration of their former teacher.
“Greg is the type of teacher that will take the underachiever -- the unruly students that all the other teachers are having problems with and he brings them in,” Miano said. “And he’ll take them to Washington, which he’s done for 50 years. A lot of other teachers think he’s crazy and would say, ‘How can you take that kid on a field trip for three days? I wouldn’t want him for three minutes?’ You know what, he’s never had a problem.”
When it was mentioned that he must have changed a lot of young lives for the better, Miano pointed to himself.
“I’m one of them,” he said. “If it was up to the other teachers, they would have never let me go on the trip. I was one of those unruly students, and then I ended up going into teaching.”
Miano also taught Social Studies at Pembroke, retiring last June after a nearly 34-year career.
“When I retired, I was begging Greg to retire because I felt like a quitter, because Greg was still going strong,” Miano said, calling Greg a mix of Cal Ripken, Yoda and Dr. Phil.
“You can go to him with your problems. He’s a phenomenal teacher. If you walk into his classroom, the kids are just drawn in and he never has any discipline problems. Simply put, he’s the best,” he said.
Rudolph, a teaching assistant who used to work with Kinal, said she rallied the community together through “Fans of Greg Kinal” Facebook page, also crediting Ron Funke, Gary Diegelman, Ed Gutowski and her daughter, Debbie Bonn, for assisting.
“Greg's not retiring, but we didn’t want 50 years to pass by without honoring him,” she said. “He probably will never retire, so this is like his retirement/celebration.”
She said that Kinal has impacted thousands of lives in the school district.
“I, my children, my grandchildren – we all were taught by Greg. He is a mentor, a supporter and a nurturer and he means a lot to all of the people in our community.”
Kinal’s wife, Jackie, and children, Tracy, Scott and Marty also attended the celebration. He and his wife have four grandchildren, including Drew Monti, a popular harness horse racing driver at Batavia Downs.
Oh, and getting back to that old sign on the school building.
“Years ago, when they were making the new sign, I said to the custodians, ‘What are you going to do with the old sign?’ Kinal offered. “They said it’s trash. Well, I’ve got it and it’s in my garage. I repainted it black and mounted it in my garage … and I see it every day.”
*Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder