Forty years ago today, the River Rouge School Board adopted a resolution to recognize the retirement of David M. Falik.
I stumbled upon the framed resolution a few weeks ago in my parents’ basement under a Presidential Fitness certificate signed by George H.W. Bush. We aren’t big on family artifacts and heirlooms. I have the necktie my dad wore at their wedding. A few of the watch faces my mom designed at Bulova are around somewhere. I kept my wisdom teeth but can’t say I’m any wiser for it.
However, RESOLUTION ADOPTED BY A VOTE OF THE BOARD OF EDUCATION OF THE SCHOOL DISTRICT OF THE CITY OF RIVER ROUGE, MICHIGAN AT A REGULAR MEETING HELD ON WEDNESDAY, MAY 27, 1981 hangs on (leans against) the wall next to my desk.
WHEREAS, in the retirement of David M. Falik as a teacher at River Rouge High School, we have lost a most valuable staff member, one who has brought to his position ability, creative thought, and enthusiasm;
He was Dave to most people. We called him Grandpa Father, which sounds impossibly Catholic, but I can’t really think of him as anything else. I suppose his students called him Mr. Falik. The M. didn’t stand for anything, “just like Truman.”
Long before Matthew Crawford wrote Shop Class as Soulcraft – “Craftsmanship means dwelling on a task for a long time and going deeply into it, because you want to get it right” – Mr. Falik practiced it every day in the welding shop at River Rouge High School. The school was racially stable, half Black and half white, year after year. The shop was a separate brick building; it had been the original River Rouge School.
AND WHEREAS, David M. Falik has devoted a total of thirty-three years to the education of the youth of the Public Schools of the City of River Rouge;
The trajectory of his life leading up to River Rouge High sounds familiar enough that you could almost overlook how extraordinary it was – a first generation American, who graduated in the depths of the Depression, served three years in England, France and Germany, promoted to first lieutenant in the field, returns home to get his bachelors and masters in teaching on the GI Bill.
River Rouge was a blue-collar town; he taught practical skills to generations of working-class kids. Welding mainly, but also printing (letter press), engine repair and mechanical drawing. His students took what they learned down the street to Great Lakes Steel, the Ford Rouge Plant and beyond. One of those students in the early years didn't get far – he was the superindendent of River Rouge Schools at the time Mr. Falik retired.
AND WHEREAS, David M. Falik has been earnest and diligent in the performance of his services for the Board of Education with the result that many young people who have come under his influence have risen up to honor him;
I have never met one of his students, but it’s not hard to imagine the shop would have been a sacred space for some and a safe space for all of his students. Notwithstanding 2000°F welding arcs and teenage boys, he had a perfect safety record. And there were the night classes for adults – motivated students and money to just about cover his goulash dinner at Joey's Stables, a roadhouse in Delray.
As reported in the Rouge Herald Newspaper on January 6, 1955:
Joemobile Creates A Stir At Public Showing
The first public showing of the Joemobile, featuring a power motor engine and boasting a record gas mileage of one gallons per month for long distance travel, caused quite a stir late Saturday in the neighborhood of the Faulk [sic] Motor Company.
A pint-sized vehicle it has green leatherette seats that provide adequate space for four passengers willing to get where they are going via sidewalk and at a speed of eight miles an hour.
The Joemobile began as a power mower and just grew as members of the day and night welding class at River Rouge High School, using material picked up at nominal cost at junk yards, worked on it.
David Falik, Welding Instructor at the High School supervised the production of the one-of-a-kind model. Gear boxes were made from an old washing machine and there's a forward and reverse clutch. Everything in the car with the exception of the motor and wheels were made with hand tools.
Since the brilliant red vehicle (painted in the school Auto Shop), is operated by one simple control, Falik's four-and-a-half year old son, Joseph, is able to impress his buddies with his driving skill. Falik christened the fabulous vehicle Joemobile in honor of his son and the first showing of the new model was held in front of the Falik home at 17167 Kentucky, Detroit.
Students in the welding classes at the High School, according to the Instructor, do much of the maintenance and repair work in the building and built $150 potter's wheel for the ceramics class for $20. Among the projects turned out in the shop are kitchen stepstools and car seats for kiddies who aren't quite old enough yet to tackle the Joemobile.
THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED, that appreciation for this devotion and loyalty and high quality of service rendered by David M. Falik be hereby expressed and made a matter of official record;
One perk of the job was that he got to use the shop for his own projects. Following the Joemobile – much better name than the Edsel – he built a motor scooter for my dad and devices to assist students at the school for the blind.
When Scrabble became a craze and his sister-in-law complained about the difficulty of viewing the board, he invented the first game-board rotating table, replete with a felt top and ball bearings for smooth, secure movement. He had refined his manufacturing process when he received an order from J.L. Hudson for twelve. It turned out to be for a gross – or 1200, depending on who’s telling the story – which was beyond his production capacity.
FURTHER, that this Board express the hope that David M. Falik be granted many years of good health to enjoy the rest and retirement which he so ably earned;
He didn’t manage to stay retired for long. At Thurston High School in Redford, he worked as a paraprofessional in the shop, relieved to no longer be primarily responsible for student safety and happy to play in the teachers’ bowling league.
When he re-retired, I was prepared to employ him playing the greatest card game known to me: Crazy Eights. I was practically unbeatable, except that my hands were too small to hold the cards. Grandpa Father built me a card holder – an ergonomically angled metal rack secured to a wood base – at which point I was literally unbeatable.
AND FURTHER, that the Secretary of the Board of Education be, and he is hereby, authorized to transmit a copy of this resolution to David M. Falik.
He did. It survived many moves and then it survived him. The least I could do is hang it on the wall.