Tillman H. Erb

Started by Private User on Thursday, December 22, 2011


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Private User
12/22/2011 at 8:15 PM

My name is Susan Hall. I was a student of Mr. Erb's in 1968-69 at the California Youth Authority in Ventura, California. I had been incarcerated for almost three years, first at juvenille hall, then Los Palmas school for girls, and was eventually moved to CYA. My charges for incarceration was "run away" and I was considered a juvenille delinquent and "incorrigible". Tillman H. Erb was one of the most influential persons in my life. I wanted to share with his family my experience with him as a student, and over the years, we became very good friends.

I had completed most of my credits to graduate from high school early. I only needed history credits. I had the opportunity to spend most of my school time in either his class room or his office. Since I had multiple classes with him throughout the day, he allowed me to spend one class with him and all of the other students, and the rest of my class time, I was allowed to spend it in his office reading anything that I wanted that he had in his office. This included books, newspapers, periodicals, and I could also listen to music on his phonograph. My agreement with him was that we would meet individually once a week and discuss what I found to be of interest to me. Everything in his office interested me; my mind was like a sponge, and I read everything I could get my hands on. I listened to classical music and what I remembered most was playing the album of HAIR, the musical. We had amazing discussions about history, politics, political science, theology, philosophy, psychology, literature, poetry and art. I learned more during my time with him then I ever remember learning in all of my years of traditional education. I find myself often repeating to others what he said to me "if you don't understand history, you can't understand the present or contemplate the future".

Mr. Erb was the only person who ever asked me what my story was. He was the only person who listened to me, and helped me put the pieces of my life together to show me how I came to be who I was. In all the years of being incarcerated, he was the only person I ever came in contact with who told me that I could be anything I wanted to be. He taught me that education did not require a school, or a college, but he taught me how to deeply research anything I had an interest in. He taught me about critical thinking. He taught me a lot about politics. This was during the Vietnam War, and during this time there was much unrest in our country.

I was to graduate, and was chosen to give the graduation speech in front of the whole school, along with many public figures, including the Mayor of Ventura, and the Superintendent and family. I was petrified, opinionated, and radical. I began my speech with "We the People", and used language like "the establishment", and discussed human rights, including the rights of all of us at CYA. The day before graduation, I was asked to give my speech at a small luncheon held by the administrators of the school and a few local politicians. Immediately after I gave my speech I was called into the office and told that I would not be able to give the speech the following day as it was too radical. I immediately went to Mr. Erb and asked for his help. He gathered up another teacher and spoke to the administration on my behalf;' committing to help me tone down my speech. Between the two of them, they helped me write the most eloquent radical speech ever. I'm laughing as I write this, remembering the look on the principal's face; as I thought she was going to pass out ! I was quickly moved off of the stage, and put in solitary confinement. Within a week or so, I was released out the "back door", and my mother was told that I had nearly incited a riot. Mr. Erb and I laughed about this for many, many years. We almost started a riot !!!

During this time, I remember not being able to talk. I had internalized most of the trauma I had experienced earlier in my life, and did not feel comfortable talking to anyone. I wrote. I wrote short stories, prose, and poetry. Mr. Erb had me record my speech, and all of my poetry on reel to reel. He kept it for me for many years. After release, we were not suppose to have any contact, but we did. I was often invited to his home for dinners with he and his wife. She shared her art with me. Sometimes we went to galleries, and museums together. They opened up a world I had never experienced before. I learned about art and art history. I kept the beautiful books they gave me for over 30 years, and smiled when I went to Europe and saw the originals, thinking of them, and smiling, remembering our lessons. .

His wife died, and I came to visit him. He was moved to a home, and he hated it. He eventually "ran away"... I say this with a smile, as I remember him discussing his plans. I lost track of him, and searched for him for many, many years. I always kept him close to my heart, as he was the one person I remember who "saw" me, acknowledged me, challenged me, taught me well, and genuinely cared for me.

There are many things about me; my character, personal integrity, political views, critical thinking skills, my passion and life long love of working with youth and families that I give him credit for. He was an incredible mentor, and wonderful friend, He touched my heart deeply.

Susan Hall

12/23/2011 at 9:30 AM

A beautiful tribute, Susan. Thanks for sharing that.

12/23/2011 at 7:25 PM


12/26/2011 at 12:13 PM

How wonderful. I read his profile when Justin was researching him. A truly inspiring man.

12/26/2011 at 6:25 PM


Can you add Susan's wonderful story as a document on his profile?

I am sad not to be related. I was thinking, perhaps we need a Project, "People who inspire me," with trees we can work on? I'm still nibbling on a few disconnected artists, for instance. But there are so many we run across in Geni, non celebs, that is part of the pleasure of this site.

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