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The Charles Schulz Philosophy

by on March 02, 2010 7:00 AM

I received a wonderful thank you note from a former student who wrote, “Thank you being a positive influence in my life.” I was touched by her thoughtfulness but was also somewhat surprised. I’ve received many written thank you notes from students over the years but somehow never considered myself to be influential. 

A few days later, I got one of those forwarded inspirational e-mails titled the “Charles Schulz Philosophy.” Attributed to the creator of Charlie Brown and Peanuts, the e-mail suggested that we should remember that the people who make the most difference in our lives are often not the most famous, the richest or the most credentialed; they are usually the people who show us that they care.

The e-mail included a quiz to help us consider those who have influenced us. (According to, the Schulz family denies that Charles Schulz ever created this “Charles Schulz Philosophy,” but it’s a good message nonetheless.) 

It got me thinking. Who would I consider to be the most influential people in my life?

First, on the list is my dad. He was a no-nonsense kind of guy who lived his life simply and consistently. A business owner and the consummate fiscal conservative, predictability was his strongest asset. He wore blue work pants almost every day of his life, including on the beach. 

My kids can quote him when the moment is right. “Go outside and shake yourself.” “Moderate your highs and lows.” “Take all you want; eat all you take.” I often wonder if Dad ever wanted to go crazy and do something totally unexpected. He never did. When he found out his diagnosis was terminal, he cried because of his fear of missing his family. I get my common sense and my sense of humor from Dad.

Teachers are a whole category of influence in our lives. My second grade teacher, Mrs. Verity, was influential. With her long hair and warm smile, we all thought she was beautiful. She had a huge impact on me just by being sensitive to my shyness. In the days before political correctness, she gave each of us a Christmas ornament on which she had written our names in glitter. “Patty” still hangs on my Christmas tree every year. 

Mrs. Brewer taught us that you sometimes get to break rules if you follow them first. Once a month on Friday she would bring in Wrigley’s gum for all of us if we hadn’t broken the no-gum rule for the weeks before. The whole fifth grade class would chomp like cows in the field on those gum days.

Mrs. Bailey taught me that high expectations make us rise to them. She was the first person to tell me I could be a leader. 

Mrs. Czarick and Miss Markel (now Mrs. Gatto) were the young, cool, junior high teachers who let us be teenage girls and talk about anything and everything in their Home Ec. classrooms – both during and after class.   

Mrs. Kingsbury laid the groundwork for me to become a writer. 

Mr. Boris and Mr. Filko taught us social studies and history and made it OK to debate different opinions.

I had an amazing sociology professor named Dr. Steffensmeir for a class on juvenile deliquency. I was amazed by how much she knew and how she delivered that information. Ditto for the Ph.D. student whose name I can’t remember who taught the course on Family Relationships in the IFS (now HDFS) program.

The guy I had for Stat 200 was influential but probably not in a good way. He taught 3/4 of the semester with his zipper down. We never knew if it was accidental or on purpose. 

I learned graduate statistics from Dr. Taylor with a hand calculator. 

Dr. Smith helped me understand the interpersonal dynamics of a thesis committee.  

Dr. Lundegren helped me make the deadline for submitting that same thesis after a bump in the road to get there. Throughout my extended graduate school career (working full-time, school part-time), she helped me stay on track when I felt like giving up.

Supervisors and bosses over the years have had an impact. Everyone said that Mr. Meyer at the Autoport was going to be hard to work for, but he was wonderful to me. I waited tables at the coffee shop the summer after high school; my husband and now sister-in-law were lifeguards at the hotel pool. We learned a lot that summer about work. 

My first boss after college influenced me too. She had been there a very long time and was resentful of the people she hired who had credentials. I learned a lot from having a boss who didn’t like me. 

The next one was better. Bruce Kline was the probably the most influential person in my career. Bruce came back to State College after working out in the Wild West and used to joke he had been the only Jewish cowboy in North Dakota. He left Central PA and went on to establish state of the art addiction treatment in the Native American community. In the short time I worked with him, he changed how I viewed myself and my profession, although thankfully the cowboy boot thing never rubbed off.   

Dr. Parks at Penn State was an amazing influence, both as a professional and as a female in a work setting. I was very sad when she retired. My new boss just took over in August. I’ll let you know in how it goes.

I’ve been influenced by friends and colleagues. I’ve been influenced by my friends’ parents and the parents of my kids’ friends.  I’ve been influenced by priests, ministers at churches where I wasn’t a member and by spiritual people who don’t go to church. I’ve been influenced by neighbors and volunteers who work to bring about change in our community. I’ve been influenced by people who face obstacles and disabilities with grace and inspiration. 

Not all influence is positive, and not all of it feels good. A friend who disappoints us helps influence our view of relationships. Family roles and sibling rivalries can limit our growth, particularly when those patterns are destructive or self-serving. Conversely, someone who is there for us and who lets us be who we are helps us soar. The unconditional love of a parent for a child can allow that child to take risks and to do amazing things. 

I’ve been influenced recently by a friend who made a difference in my life just by believing in me. I think I owe him a Bud Light Lime.

My husband and my children influence me every single day of my life.

I’m not famous or rich and I haven’t done anything that is autobiographically worthy, but I’ve known tremendous influence and amazing people in my life. I need to thank those people. I wouldn't be me without you.

Who are the people who have influenced you?

Patty Kleban is an instructor at Penn State, mother of three and a community volunteer. She is a Penn State Alumna. Readers of State College Magazine voted her Best Writer of 2010 and 2012. She and her family live in Patton Township. Her views and opinions do not necessarily reflect those of Penn State.
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