Paul Marston: Teacher and Mentor–by Jerry O’Brien

Jerry O’Brien

I and many others were truly lucky to have Paul Marston as a teacher at Adel High in 1974.

Please allow me this little story to show an insight into this great man who changed my life for the better:

My assignment one week was to write a paper on Diogenes, famous in the ancient world for “searching for an honest man” with his lantern. I thought it would be an easy assignment, and sadly I cut corners and thought I would fool people easily by simply copying text directly from an encyclopedia and its bio on Diogenes. I changed a few words and before the assignment was due. Mr. Marston asked to see our work, one by one, to make sure everything was standing tall before we handed it in. I recall like yesterday how when it was my turn to come up beside his desk, to have him review the paper, I felt a little worried, as I did not know much about him. What if he caught the plagiarism?

So, as he reviewed the one page paper I could tell something was not right – some quiet tension in the air. He said something like – “Jerry, you know, as I read this, it is ok…but you may want to find other books in the library here that have information on Diogenes, and then put it all together. This reads a little generalized and seems like it only came from one source.”

And then he walked over and brought back the “D” encyclopedia from the corner in the room, this being the exact encyclopedia I had copied from. He opened the book at his desk, came to the bio of Diogenes. I still see the pen and ink drawing in my mind of Diogenes “looking for an honest man” with his lantern, the irony of the moment was not lost on me.

Then Mr. Marston’s greatness, gentleness, non-judgmental attitude came through, and he simply moved his finger along the bio in the encyclopedia and his other by my nearly word for word account. And he simply shut the encylopedia once the point was made and handed the paper back and smiled and said, “Yes, maybe just get a few more sources, put it all together as I know you can and bring it back in your voice, Jerry.”

Well, I was relieved he did not rake me over the coals. I went back to the library and reviewed 5 sources and wrote the new paper in my own words. I handed it in. It may have been one of the greatest lessons I ever learned – because I really loved writing and it taught me to always use my voice and search for the truth in every story.

It also showed me people are human – and make mistakes – and that a gentle nudge in the right direction – and a quiet word – is more powerful many times than a sledge.

I ended up writing for a living for a Fortune 6 corporation as a Director of Communications – and I still write for them to this day. Mr. Marston did his duty in the US Army and teaching and then returned to farming – as that is where I feel his truth and beauty were. I always admired him when I heard how he had gone back to the family farm. As it was just like the great Roman Cincinnatus – who led in the Army and then returned to farming.

Paul Marston in later years

I so appreciate the short intersection of our lives had. God bless him and his family – he is the type of person who has made us a better version of ourselves.


  1. Paul I have always respected you, I still remember when I sold you the Dodge pickup. You are one of the nicest people I know from Earlham.

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