Pop Quell

June 2010

Thomas Shepherd, D. Min.

Thomas Shepherd speaks on hardwork, fathers, and love

Thomas Shepherd teaches in the Historical and Theological Studies Department of Unity Institute®. He is the author of Jesus 2.1: An Upgrade for the 21st Century and Good Questions, a book based upon his popular Unity Magazine® column. 

My grandfather, William Henry Quell (1911-1974), was a seventh grade dropout. He and my grandmother, Esther Marie Quell, raised me. He is the only father figure I’ve ever known, and I gotta tell you, he wasn’t very good at being a dad. He was working all the time! He worked nights, and then he drove school buses during the day. He came home between morning and afternoon bus runs to catch some sleep. But he was always walking out the door with his lunch pail, and I wanted a dad to play catch with me. He didn’t even talk that much. I thought he was, well, stupid.

Only after he had been dead a decade did I realize that English wasn’t his first language; he was urban Pennsylvania Dutch. Pop Quell was a mechanic’s helper at the Reading, Pennsylvania Bus Company. He never made mechanic. He was a barely educated man who struggled to read the evening newspaper and repeated himself frequently when he thought he had said something witty.

Pop Quell wasn’t stupid, rather he was in the purest sense of the word ignorant, meaning he wasn’t well-educated in an academic setting and therefore had limited resources to understand things like American history, politics, literature, art or philosophy. It wasn’t his fault, and it certainly wasn’t due to laziness. William Henry Quell left school at 12 years old to go to work, not just because the family needed extra income, but because that is what working-class boys did in the factory towns during the 1920s. All he wanted out of life was a living wage, decent benefits and a chance to work hard and retire with dignity. And to go fishing in Maryland every summer.

I was moving back to Reading in June of 1974, transferring from Denver, Colo., to a graduate school of theology near home for the second and third years of my seminary education. While I was driving across country, my grandfather died of a heart attack on my 28th birthday, June 10, 1974. He was just shy of 63 and had not survived to collect Social Security.

My grandfather worked two jobs—cleaning city buses by night and driving school buses by day—and I never had a chance to tell him thank you. I realized recently that the reason he was working so hard was to put me through high school, a level that must have seemed like college to him. Now, thanks to his initial investment in my future, I have a doctorate.

As I think about Father’s Day, I am thankful beyond words for all the dads and granddads, all the Pop Quells out there who are holding down multiple jobs to raise kids who will shape the future in ways they could not imagine. Fatherhood, well done, is a shining example of selfless love.