A Glimpse into David Burris: Skip Cohen ’67

Guest Author: Skip Cohen

There’s one good thing the pandemic has given each of us…TIME! Even now, as things start to improve, I still have time to take those fun walks down Memory Lane. Writing for the Riverside Alumni Online Log has given me a chance to put into words what so many of us have felt over the years, as we look back on those teachers who helped us most.

While many teachers made a difference in my life, only one stayed in touch, Dave Burris. A few months back I posted an image in a Painesville Facebook group, of Dave and my wife Sheila (AKA Sheila Fetterman), together at the class of ’67’s fortieth reunion. There were 93 people who commented, and everyone expressed the same loving sentiments! That led to my being asked to write a profile story about “Mr.” Burris, with my memories going back to high school.

Mr. David Burris from the 1665 RHS Yearbook
Mr. David Burris from the 1665 RHS Yearbook.

In all honesty, I don’t have that much to write when it comes to the “good old days.” I wasn’t an art student and never had him for any class. However, I was in the photography club, and he was the first to publish my photographs in various RHS publications.

I think it was my 35th reunion when we reconnected. I was wandering around aimlessly at Maximillian’s when a guy came up, shook my hand, and introduced himself, “Dave Burris.” I mumbled something like, “It’s been a long time,” and that was it. He didn’t look any older than the rest of us, and I just assumed he was a classmate I didn’t recognize.

Once home that night, I couldn’t place Dave Burris and grabbed an old yearbook. I felt like a moron because it was “Mr.” Burris. I never knew him as Dave. I called him the next day. It was that moment when the relationship changed, and for the next 15 years or so, we stayed in touch with future reunions, along with random phone calls throughout the year.

David Burris and Sheila Fetterman Cohen

It was during these get-togethers that the “behind the scenes” stories came out. A particular favorite of mine was Dave’s story about regularly sneaking into Mr. Shaner’s office and taking a bite out of his morning donut and then leaving it there. As he’d tell the story, there was a twinkle in his eyes only the devil could create.

A few years back, Sheila and I attended the funeral of a good friend’s mother in Painesville. At the repast at the church afterward, I sat down at a table with Dave Burris and Roger Stanley. “Mr.” Stanley ran the photography club.

What a kick it was to thank these two for their influence on my career. In February, I celebrated 51 years in the photography industry, and my career has been thanks in part to the foundation built by these two men.

I have a favorite quote I’ve used, usually in retirement toasts over the years. It describes the contribution to our lives from so many great teachers. They became a part of the fiber of who we grew up to be. Sir Alfred Lord Tennyson wrote in Ulysses:

I am a part of all that I have met.

The career paths we chose, or stumbled into, are no different than looking through the viewfinder or screen on a camera or on our phones.  We make choices to find our best point of focus to highlight the subject. We zoom in closer for what’s most important in the photograph, or we move back, often capturing a more scenic image.

That leads me to close with a thought about those special teachers in our lives – the ones who helped us focus. They gave us much more than just “how-to” lessons for the future. They gave us a foundation of confidence to bring us to where we are today.

As we come out of the pandemic, it’s the perfect time to think about those few people who helped us the most – the ones who taught us to believe in ourselves. It’s a great time to pick up the phone, call them, and say thanks. And, if they’re ones who have passed away, you can still talk to them – they’ll hear you!

Editor’s Note: David Burris, a teacher at Riverside High School for 33 years, died in December 2015. Here’s a link to his obituary.

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