ESCANABA - Ask just about any youngster at the Lemmer Elementary School about "Papa Carl" and you will instantly see eyes light up and a broad grin appear along with a cacophony of positive comments about the kindly volunteer grampa with the gentle smile.
A retired member of the U.S. Coast Guard, Carl Lawson began serving as a volunteer at the school when his first grandson began attending there. He is not a member of any organization whose volunteers work in the local schools.
"I'm just a volunteer," he said. "Both of my grandsons were here - one still is - and I've been following them through."
Dorothy McKnight | Daily Press
When volunteer Carl Lawson walked into multipurpose room at Lemmer during lunch time, it didn’t take long for the students to come from everywhere to be near “Papa Carl,” including his grandson, Trent, seated on his right.
Lawson said he became "hooked" on volunteering at the school after he responded to a request from his grandson Tyler's kindergarten teacher to have family members come in the classroom and read to the students.
"After the first time, I liked it so much I asked if I could come in once a week and read to the kids," he said. But Lawson's "reading" has since evolved to include much more. He is not restricted to his grandsons' classrooms but visits all the classes from kindergarten through second grade. He visits the school all day each Tuesday and Wednesday and half a day on Thursday.
"When I'm in the kindergarten classes, I read stories and help correct the kids' vocabulary," he explained. "In first grade, I mainly read with the kids. I think it's unbelievable how well they can read at this point."
Lawson helps with testing when he spends time with the second-graders.
"Sometimes it's one-on-one if they need extra help," he said.
Asked what he enjoys most about working with young students, Lawson responded, "I like their honesty. They are very respectful to me and, in most cases, are eager to learn."
The kindergartners, he said, are eager to learn and want to absorb everything. "They love seeing me and I pay attention to all of them," he added.
Watching the youngsters advance to first and second grade is gratifying to the volunteer.
"I see them growing up and I enjoy watching them," he said.
But Lawson's interest in the lives of his grandchildren isn't confined to their schools. They are also active in sports and Lawson can be found in the stands rooting for their teams.
Lawson and his wife, Patricia, have been married 51 years and they are the parents of three children. They also have 19 grandchildren with number 20 on the way.
Lawson met Patricia, in 1961 while he was serving in the Coast Guards and on an ice-breaking mission into Escanaba.
"She was with a friend and she said she had never been with a sailor before so they drove down in a convertible to the ship," Lawson explained. "I saw her there and we just started talking."
Lawson retired from the Coast Guard in 1978 but didn't consider himself "fully retired." He attended Bay College where he studied criminal justice and worked for Mead Paper in its Loss Prevention program for the next 16 years.
Now that his second grandson, Trent, will be in third grade next year, Lawson said he will, in all likelihood, be back again in the fall, but his future as a classroom volunteer will be undecided after the boy moves on to the Upper Elementary School the following year.