'Herm' Changed My Life

Every school has one. You know, that one unbearably cool teacher who managed to be accessible at the same time?

Well, I would bet my last dollar that Ert Jones-Hermerding was the coolest of all of them.

Ert—or "Herm" as we all called him—was my acting and improv teacher at Plymouth Junior High in Minnesota, and he changed my life. I was a fat, not so popular and highly self-conscious girl when I walked into his class. I walked out a star (or at least feeling like one).

Herm had an uncanny ability to give each student exactly what they needed to thrive, and we all loved him. He could be tough—and we butted heads more than once—but he was the kind of teacher that made us want to work harder, dig deeper, give more, come out of our shells. He saw past my own shell (made up of about twenty extra pounds of ass), cast me in va-va-voom kind of roles, and helped me see myself as beautiful and sexy.

Because he saw me as confident and powerful, I became confident and powerful. I know that there are thousands of other kids who were pulled from their shells by Herm, most notably Steve Zahn and Mo Collins.

One of the happiest moments of my career came when he found me online and took the time to write and tell me how proud he was of what I was doing. I dug up the email when I heard that he had died and found this, "I still teach and direct, on my own schedule. But, more importantly, I ride my motorcycle as much and whenever I want now."

His untimely death is a tragedy for all who loved him, especially his wife and family, but I take comfort in knowing that he went out doing something he deeply loved.

A life well lived? Indeed.

Ert Jones-Hermerding taught Speech and Drama. In his extraordinary 34-year career, he was a football coach and director as well as a teacher. He was killed on August 11, 2009, when his motorcycle crashed in a ditch near Otter Tail County. He is survived by his wife, Pat; his two children, Mee-Lynn and Harper; a grandson, Dominic; and about a gazillion former students whose lives he helped shape.

He will be missed.

– Darbi Worley, New York, NY