From Pakistan To Red Oak And Everywhere In Between
Walter Yuhanna has seen the places education can take a person, and for him it has been around the world.
Now, at age 88, he spends his days in retirement in Red Oak, which was one of his many stops in a storied career.
Yuhanna was born in Pakistan, where he received his bachelor’s degree from Punjab University. He earned a masters degree in history in Indiana, taught at a university in Nigeria, was a superintendent of a Christian school in Pakistan, and then came to Red Oak, where he taught for almost 15 years.
“I gained so much experience teaching in Nigeria and Pakistan, and because of that, I could understand culture and different students much better,” Yuhanna said.
He taught at the Red Oak alternative school from 1999 until 2013, and then continued to substitute in Red Oak schools until 2017. After retirement, he said he chose to continue living in Red Oak because his oldest son and family lives here, and he wanted to be near his grandchildren.
Yuhanna grew up grew up in Pakistan near the city of Rawalpindi, which is near the capital of Islamabad. Being a loving parent, he came to the U.S. to be closer to his three sons, all of whom attended college in the states in North Dakota and Minnesota, two later settling in Texas and one remaining in Minnesota.
“We moved to Red Oak in December 1999 after the birth of our second grandchild,” he said.
He now has five grandchildren.
Learning From Those He Taught
On his way to becoming a Red Oak resident, however, Yuhanna taught many youngsters in other parts of the world. And while he taught them, he also learned much from them.
“The students in Nigeria were very keen in learning about world history. They were very well behaved and hard-working. They were the best students and most well-disciplined I have ever worked with,” he said.
“Most students (ages 7-16) who attended Bateman Boys School (in Pakistan) were very poor and totally illiterate. They stayed in a hostel at the school and were taught about living a Christian life. They also received a secular education, and most qualified to attend Christian colleges and training schools in Pakistan. Their education gave them a chance at a much better life.”
Yuhanna is no stranger to dangerous situations, dating back to his youth. For example, when he was about 15 years old, he was walking on a road in Pakistan with five other students, and two men holding swords approached them. He and the other students thought the men wanted their luggage, so they dropped their luggage and quickly fled.
“In Nigeria there were many scary events on the roads – many accidents because the roads were so bad and people didn’t drive very well,” he said.
Also as a youngster, his Christian family in Pakistan was often persecuted due to the religious conflicts between a Muslim majority in Pakistan and the Hindu majority in India. After Pakistan and India split, many accused his family of being spies for India, and his father was often interrogated by government leaders.
Religion Connects Us & Divides Us
Now, as an adult, Yuhanna believes religion is the thing that connects people the most, but also divides them the most.
“Ideology about religion, politics, social needs and aspirations of an individual, group, class or culture bring us together and also keep us apart,” he said. “Being educated helps people understand each other and their differences better.”
Yuhanna’s father was a middle school teacher in Pakistan who was trained as a teacher at a school in India before Pakistan was formed. Yuhanna had three brothers and three sisters.
Yuhanna’s wife passed away in 2018 after a long illness. He occupies himself with daily exercise, drives to the store occasionally, and is learning social media, his daughter-in-law Heidi said.
“We almost have to make an appointment to talk to him because he is so well-connected to friends and relatives in the U.S. and in Canada,” she said. “He is also learning how to follow his friends and family on Facebook, and likes to watch Youtube videos.”
And he still travels some, with trips to Minnesota, of course, and even Canada.
Back home, as much as he’s come to love Red Oak, it has also fallen in love with him, including many former students.
“When he goes out, he often is enthusiastically greeted by past students at the alternative school,” Heidi said. “Even though they attended the school for disciplinary reasons, they developed positive relationships with Mr. Yuhanna.”