Dale Faughn often got up at 3:30 a.m. to jog three miles before he went to work. He didn’t think that doing that was only for the young.
It didn’t matter to Dale, born in 1925, that some also think young adults are supposed to be the ones who donate their blood to help others live. In his lifetime, Dale has given more than 28 gallons of his blood—drawn from his slender, 140-pound body. He made it a point to encourage others to do so, too.
Dale taught high school science for over 60 years until he retired in 2011. He collected many awards doing it and was always attending classes to improve his teaching skills. Dale lives young, and he is proof that one can do much of what they set their mind to do.
His life is quite impressive, and he has touched thousands of people in a positive way. Many of them were the students in his classes at Caldwell County High School, in the western Kentucky town of Princeton. Dale loved his work, and he was good at it. He was voted into both the Kentucky and national teacher Halls of Fame.
He also loves to write poems, ones that people can clearly understand and are encouraging. He has a simple love of words and many rich experiences that make his poetry come to life. His skills as a poet became known all around the state, and in 1986, Dale shared the honor of Kentucky Poet Laureate with Jim Wayne Miller. He often quoted the poetry he wrote in his classroom, making it part of the lesson he taught.
The community has recognized Dale for his work in blood donation, too. He was inducted into the Baxter Donor Hall of Fame for his service. He also won “Citizen of the Year” from the Princeton Kiwanis Club.
“Don’t be ordinary,” Dale likes to say.
And oh, what interesting, true-life stories about his life he tells. Like the five times in 1958 he made a national TV appearance.
“I didn’t tell anyone that I was applying,” he said, “but I filled out the papers to be on a TV show called ‘The $64,000 Challenge.’” Dale soon heard from the show. “They asked me a lot of questions on the phone about my Bible knowledge, then flew me to New York for the program. Before going, a store here in Princeton stayed open after hours to help me get the right suit to wear.”
His family and friends cheered him on, and he performed well on the program by “tying with a very nice lady who really knew her Bible well,” he recalled. Both received an $8,000 consolation prize. “Then, in a written test, she beat me, and, therefore, represented the United States at the World Bible Contest in Israel,” he explained.
Dale loved telling stories to his students about living poor in the Depression times of the 1930s. It amazed them to hear that their teacher’s father was a sharecropper and was also hired by farmers to work “sun (up) to sun (down)” for 50 cents a day in wages. He liked to tell, also, that he was drafted into the U.S. Marine Corps and took a long train trip to San Diego for basic training soon after he graduated from Eddyville High School, in Lyon County.
“We were poor, and I didn’t get to go anywhere until going into the Marine Corps,” Dale noted. Working hard in school was an important thing in young Dale’s family. “My parents pushed education and I hungered to read and learn.”
On the trip to San Diego, he took careful notes as he viewed the countryside. Later, when he returned from being on the famous war battle on the island of Iwo Jima, he wrote a poem about his experience called “I Met the Flag at Iwo Jima.” He’s never stopped writing verses since then.
After he served his time as a Marine, he attended college at Murray State, in Murray. He received money for his education from the GI Bill, the government’s way of saying thanks for the military service. He tried to save as much as he could, however.
Dale grins when he tells of his thrifty living style while there. “My tuition, books and fees were paid,” he said. “I was given fifty dollars per month to live on, but since they ran out of dormitory space, Murray State found me a place to stay for seven dollars a month, and I spent one dollar per day to eat, plenty. I had thirteen dollars left at the end of each month after room and board.”
Feeling blessed, many years later Dale started a yearly $1000 college scholarship award for a deserving student planning to be a teacher.
Dale appreciates the help from others that allows for his success. “If you see a turtle sitting on the top of a fence post,” he likes to say, “you can know it did not get there by itself. I am grateful for all those who have helped me along the way.”
He admits that much of his good fortune is through the help of his wife Virginia, who lives with him at their farm near Fredonia, outside Princeton. The couple married in October, 1949. They met when he was a student and she worked as a cashier at Murray State’s cafeteria. “There was something about the way she punched my meal ticket,” Dale said with a smile.
Virginia accepted the fact that she would be married to a very busy person. “It hasn’t been easy for her, as I was away so often while she was home raising our seven children,” said Dale. “I couldn’t have made it without her cooperation.” Six of the seven children were boys, and one chose to be a teacher, too.
Virginia’s passion is to minister to the hurting in the community. “If someone is sick, Virginia knows just what to take to them,” Dale said. Their interests often aren’t the same. Most notable is that he likes to travel and she likes staying around home. “Being different has worked well for us,” he said.
Besides jogging and other exercises, Dale gives credit for his good health to being careful with what he takes into his body and, simply, thinking like a young person. He takes vitamins and minerals. He avoids caffeine, alcohol and tobacco. It seems to work. “I don’t feel old,” he said. “It’s not age that makes the big difference, it’s the way we perceive age.”
One thought that guides him in his everyday activities is to never be satisfied with what he does. He wants to do things the right way. In fact, one of his seven books of poetry is named Don’t Be Ordinary. “I’m not one who just likes to ‘glide through’,” he said.
Dale’s books of poetry, illustrated by his good friend Ricky Phelps, are ways to show that he is a careful observer of life. He uses his poetry writings to encourage both his students and those outside the classroom. He makes sure that one doesn’t have to be an English professor for the poems to make sense.
“I write my poems so that anyone can understand them,” he said. In a piece called “Forget the Birthdays,” he clearly writes his verses.
My message is simple:
Don’t wilt up and die;
Don’t cower in slavery
To birthdays gone by.
Dale Faughn simply has never used his age as a way to excuse himself from doing what he loves. He meets life with joy and tackles its obstacles in extraordinary ways. He cares enough about the people around him to send the very best—such as a poem he has written for their birthday rather than a store-bought card.
Dale’s message he will someday leave behind goes something like this: Always carve out your own individual niche in life—but do it for the betterment of others.
Steve Flairty is a life-long Kentuckian, a teacher, public speaker and an author of three books, a biography of Kentucky Afield host Tim Farmer and two “Kentucky’s Everyday Heroes,” collections of stories about ordinary people who do extraordinary things. Kentucky’s Everyday Heroes for Kids is available now at many bookstores around the state or from the author.. This piece is an excerpt from that book. Steve is a correspondent for Kentucky Monthly. His column for KyForward appears weekly. Contact him at email@example.com.