Shippensburg University gives my dad the birthday gift of a lifetime

Post by Jason Plotkin

My dad, Bob Plotkin, rear right, laughs as friends from Shippensburg University, tell stories about his days playing football while they are on campus on Wednesday, Sept. 18, 2013. Dad, who was asked to leave the university in 1956 because of his stuttering problem, was given "Honorary Alumnus" status from the university to make amends.

My dad, Bob Plotkin, rear right, laughs as friends from Shippensburg University tell stories about his days playing football while they are on campus on Wednesday, Sept. 18, 2013. Dad, who was asked to leave the university in 1956 because of his stuttering problem, was given “Honorary Alumnus” status from the university to make amends.

My dad stutters.

To be honest, I never really noticed. It’s just the way he always talked, and in my eyes that’s just who he was.

But when he attended Shippensburg State Teachers College in 1956 with the desire to become a history teacher, one of his teachers took notice to it.

As it’s been told to me by him over the years, it was a different time. The school, if they felt you didn’t have the right qualities to be a teacher, could ask you to leave. So I guess they thought my dad’s stuttering, which could cause communication problems with the students he was hoping to teach one day, was a problem he couldn’t overcome.

So they asked him to leave.

While I’ve heard this story many times over the years, I can honestly say my dad never told it with anger in his heart. Never complained. Never resented the school’s decision. It just was what it was. He moved on and got his degree elsewhere.

But he always talked about “Ship.” You see, regardless of what was done to him, he loved that school. He always shared stories with me about guys he played football with and the friends he made. And when it came time for me to pick a college for myself, he championed the school like it was his own. And after visiting for one day, I saw what he meant.

Originally from New Jersey, I ended up staying in Pennsylvania after graduating from Shippensburg and made my way to York. Shortly after, Dad followed me here and has become a member of this community as well.

But he never forgot Shippensburg. Whenever he got a chance, he would meet up with his school friends and head to the university multiple times a year to watch football games and catch up.

What happened next led to probably one of the greatest birthday gifts my dad has ever received. You see, word got to the Shippensburg University Alumni Association of what happened to my dad years earlier.

“Bobby Plotkin embodies the love we all have for Shippensburg, and we, bluntly, had the opportunity to right a wrong,” said Tim Smith, president of the alumni association. During a recent board meeting, the situation was brought up about my dad’s alumni status.

“That took us about 30 seconds of discussion, and we voted on it immediately. Then I started coordinating with the alumni house and said, ‘How can we do this?'” said Smith.

Within a few weeks, Smith told my dad he was going to make him an honorary alumnus of the university and would like to do so in a public way. He asked if dad could come up to the school and if they could present him with the certificate. To make things even cooler, the day they wanted to do it was on his 77th birthday.

So, my dad called a bunch of his football buddies on extremely short notice and a nice gathering of these guys, including his former coach, Jack Roddick, who is in his 90s, showed up to share stories and celebrate with him. Ironically, most of the jokes revolved around my dad’s stuttering. Pretty much the whole reason we were there in the first place.

Friends of my dad share stories about him, left, and Tim Smith, President of Shippensburg University Alumni Association presents him his "Honorary Alumnus" certificate.

Friends of my dad share stories about him, left, and Tim Smith, president of Shippensburg University Alumni Association presents him his “Honorary Alumnus” certificate.

It was an event I’m sure he’ll never forget. I know I never will. The university did a simple thing and did it right. It righted a wrong that never should have happened in the first place.

And gave my dad a pretty damn cool birthday present.

5 Responses to Shippensburg University gives my dad the birthday gift of a lifetime

  1. Cassie says:

    Such an awesome story! How great that the school your dad loved did something so kind for him. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Barbara Woodmansee says:

    What a great heartwarming story! Thanks for sharing it. It brightened my day.

  3. Bob Baker says:

    Bob, sorry I couldn’t be there as our son was undergoing heart surgery. Glad you had a great day.

  4. Marty Schnitzer says:

    A beautiful, well deserved honor to a great guy. Jason, thanks for sharing this wonderful story!

  5. Leif Fearn says:

    Jason:

    I never knew your dad, but I knew of him. My sister, Lynne Fearn, was there four years before I was, so I attended football games when your dad played. I remember your dad, Floyd Robinette, and Spencer Keys. I knew I would follow my sister to Shippensburg. I have the same sense of connection you describe in your father.

    Leif Fearn

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