June 1, 2007

Turning in the keys

After 38 years of teaching driving instruction and 55 Alive, Don Shoutz retires . . . for real, this time

By Kristen Miller
Staff Writer

After 15 years volunteering his time teaching 55 Alive for Community Education, Don Shoutz recently decided it’s time to park the car for good.

Before teaching the driver’s refresher course for AARP (American Association of Retired People), Shoutz taught history at Dassel-Cokato for 33 years, with 23 of them being behind-the-wheel instruction and driving.

Shoutz was moved to teach 55 Alive after he, himself, took the course elsewhere.

“I thought, there has to be a better way,” Shoutz said.

In his 15 years volunteer teaching, Shoutz found this job was unlike any other, where a person reports to work and is told what to do.

“In this case, the volunteer is the job, and I had to do my best to teach something that many thought they already knew how to do,” Shoutz said.

Many people tried to get out of taking the course, but still receive the 10 percent off of their car insurance.

Shoutz knew better than that. He’s heard things like, “I’ll be there as soon as I can,” and “Just give the certificate because I already know all that stuff.”

“Once you make a concession, you let the genie out of the bottle,” Shoutz said.

He knew the four-hour course could get long, so he tried his best to make it as bearable as possible by telling stories and jokes related to what he was teaching. After all, with 23 years of teaching young people how to drive, Shoutz has a few stories to tell.

People have told him, “That was good,” and, “I enjoyed your humor.”

In 55 Alive, students brush up on basic driving instruction like stop signs, intersections, left and right turning lanes, and metro driving.

“People don’t realize after age 55, things go downhill,” Shoutz said.

With aging, people lose depth perception and some don’t see as well at night, according to Shoutz.

“I tell them, ‘If you don’t see well at night, don’t drive at night,’” he said.

The most commonly misunderstood aspect of his job is that he gets paid for teaching the course.

“I don’t get paid,” he said. He does get reimbursed for certain expenses, like mileage.

People have gone as far as to say to him, “I can’t believe any of you teachers would come out here and teach something for nothing.”

“Of all the hundreds of teachers I have worked with, I can think of only one teacher that would qualify for that remark,” Shoutz said.

“Teachers put in a lot of time,” he added.

Even though there wasn’t a salary, there occasionally have been a few bills left on the table after class, he said.

“A couple times, I was even handed a 10 or 20 dollar bill,” he said. Oftentimes, he would even get a standing ovation.

“Society would be yucky if there were no volunteers,” he said. Shoutz also said the district is fortunate to have Colleen Compton to promote Community Education.

At 74, Shoutz is ready to call it quits and will be teaching his last class Tuesday, June 12. The district will have to find a replacement, but it will not be an easy task.

“It’s going to be difficult to find someone to replace him,” Compton said.

On a lighter note

Don Shoutz and his 55 Alive course was even turned into a cartoon by Enterprise Dispatch’s cartoonist, Ray Hanson.

Hanson knows Shoutz and even took the refresher driving course from him, which inspired the cartoon.

The cartoon shows Shoutz at a desk reviewing a test from the students. The caption reads, “You have managed to do what no one has ever done in the history of the AARP 55 Alive Driver Safety program, Mr. Dumphy, . . . You’ve failed!”

Although there is no official test, there is a multiple choice worksheet.

“Nobody likes to take tests, even if you can’t flunk them,” Hanson said.

After Hanson took the course with Shoutz, he confirmed that Shoutz did make a not-so-interesting subject fun.

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