Despite being well into their retirement years — and with each battling a degenerative disorder — a trio of Gig Harbor men are embracing the “once a teacher, always a teacher” motto within the Peninsula School District community.
These men are using their decades of teaching experience to educate local high school students about people with disabilities, specifically about people who have been diagnosed with Parkinson’s, a diagnosis that all three men live with.
Forest Lane, 66, Bob Maimbourg, 74, and Jon Malmin, 74, prefer to refer to their Parkinson’s as a “condition” or “diagnosis, instead of as a “disease” — though “Parkinson’s disease” is the technical name — because of the connotations associated with the word “disease.”
Parkinson’s is a long-term degenerative disorder of the central nervous system that affects movement. Cells in the brain gradually die, leading to a lack of dopamine that causes characteristic symptoms of the condition.
I felt like it was something that needed to be put out there. I just had a funny feeling that it wasn’t being taught in the health classes. But I didn’t want to do it alone.
“Everybody has dopamine shortages as they get older,” Lane explained. “(Parkinson’s) is really mimicking old age, but faster.”
The idea of teaching about Parkinson’s to local high school students originated with Maimbourg a year ago, who invited fellow retired teachers Lane and Malmin to join him.
“I felt like it was something that needed to be put out there. I just had a funny feeling that it wasn’t being taught in the health classes,” Maimbourg said. “But I didn’t want to do it alone.”
The three men first met at their Pedal for Parkinson’s exercise group that meets three times a week at the Tom Taylor Family YMCA in Gig Harbor and all attend the same Parkinson’s support group that meets monthly at St. Anthony Hospital.
“The most important thing is not just the exercise, but a group,” Lane said. “The talking and fellowship is what draws us back.”
I think one of the neatest things is getting to know these guys. They’re my closest friends.
Maimbourg received his Parkinson’s diagnosis nine months ago; Malmin was diagnosed nine years ago and Lane 14 years ago.
The teaching experience is varied between all three men: Maimbourg has a degree in physical education and has taught for 44 years, Malmin taught chemistry for 19 years at Peninsula High School and Lane has teaching experience that includes more than three years at United States Military Academy at West Point.
“I think one of the neatest things is getting to know these guys,” Malmin said. “They’re my closest friends.”
The presentations started last year at Gig Harbor High School, then moving to Peninsula and Henderson Bay, with the trio presenting in health classes.
To help present their message, and snag teenagers’ attention, the trio begins the talk silently, standing in a line and holding up placards that provide details on each of the men and outcomes from their Parkinson’s diagnosis.
People with disabilities become invisible. We’re trying to get them to open up that we’re still people inside these shaky shells…sometimes it’s hard to deal with and we talk about that with the kids.
All three men agree that the result is powerful and arresting for the students, who are often spotted craning in their seats for a better look.
“I really think it scored a big hit,” Maimbourg said. “The impact was quite evident.”
He added that by their third class at GHHS, word had spread and administrators and teachers from other classes were crowding in to watch the men. The presentation is then finished with a question and answer session, where the men highlight not only their own disability, but other disabilities and encourage compassion and connection from the students.
“People with disabilities become invisible,” Maimbourg said. “We’re trying to get them to open up that we’re still people inside these shaky shells …sometimes it’s hard to deal with, and we talk about that with the kids.”
Teaching compassion and encouraging connection with people with disabilities is a big part of the message spread by Lane, Maimbourg and Malmin.
(Parkinson’s) has changed me. I’m far more compassionate than I used to be. I don’t welcome the Parkinson’s, but I do welcome those changes.
Lane mentioned how his Parkinson’s diagnosis has affected his mentality toward others to be more positive and understanding.
“It has changed me. I’m far more compassionate than I used to be,” he said. “I don’t welcome the Parkinson’s, but I do welcome those changes.”
Lane is constantly amazed by the compassion the students demonstrate following their presentation, many taking the time to come up and thank the trio and shake their hands.
“I’m just so impressed with the kids,” he said.
The men are already planning on their next set of presentations to the high schools this year, fitting in practices of their presentation around their support groups and exercise time, which helps to slow and combat the symptoms of Parkinson’s.
“The characteristics of (Parkinson’s) are such that it demands a lot of attention,” Maimbourg explained. “It is not a straight road … It affects your whole body. We’re always looking for more people who need what we have to offer.”
Gig Harbor Parkinson’s support groups
Pedal for Parkinson’s meets at 3 p.m. every Monday, Wednesday and Friday at the Tom Taylor Family YMCA in Gig Harbor, 10550 Harbor Hill Drive.
The Gig Harbor Parkinson’s Support Group meets from 4 to 5:30 p.m. every second Wednesday of the month at the Green Point Room in St. Anthony Hospital, 11511 Canterwood Blvd. NW.
For details and information on Gig Harbor Parkinson’s support groups, visit nwpf.org/participate/support-groups/washington.