A Year in a Bottle With Ed Toman
The community member I have chosen for this week’s story is Mr. Ed Toman. If you have met Ed, you quickly realize he is a man of large stature with a friendly nature. He offers his friendship with a warm smile, pleasant disposition and a firm handshake. I learned during my interview with Ed he puts a lot of stock in a good hand shake. Ed was born in Sistersville hospital in 1964. His father and mother had moved to Paden City when his dad began his employment at Ormet. He is their third son along with a younger sister. When he talked of growing up in Paden City, I could tell he remembered the community and his friends fondly. He told me of weekends playing basketball in the park. He laughed as he remember swimming in the river and then getting in trouble when he got home.
Ed credits legendary Paden City Coach, Bob Burton for giving him direction after high school. Maybe Burton’s encouragement was due to Ed’s linebacker size. Or maybe, he saw something that gave him hopes for his future. Whatever it was, that encouragement led him to Marshall University, where he played football, while attending classes. He began to realize he was not sure what he wanted in his future, but he knew it was not at Marshall. Returning home, he began working for Bob Robinson and Bill Forbes at their car dealership. Unexpectedly, fate once again stepped into his life. His teammate from Marshall, Bryan Swisher called and told him Coach Louie Nocida had gotten the head coaching job at Glenville. Having some eligibility, he was prompted by Coach Nocida to attend classes and get his teaching degree. He graduated with degrees in elementary education along with special education and began his career teaching and coaching in Monongalia County Schools. He followed that moved with his next challenge at Wirt County schools, where he became the principal for two and a half years. It was at that point the position of superintendent in the county was offered to him in 2000. Five years later he accepted another superintendent’s job in Gilmer County. The school system was in need of many difficult problems to be solved with school consolidation. But with all the problems that came with the job, Ed credits Gilmer County with saving his life. During his time there, he began his battle with cancer having been diagnosed with Non Hodgkins Lymphoma. Ed spoke passionately about the people of Gilmer County and how they helped him and his family during that very difficult time. At the present time he is the second longest serving superintendent in the state. He half chuckled as he explained, “If I still have a superintendent’s job after the 30th of June, I will become the longest serving superintendent in West Virginia.” (Ed was aware that the Wetzel County Board of Education had not renewed his contract for another term as of June 30th at the time of our interview.)
I realized that Ed’s life had been a series of events that would challenge any person and their family, especially the last year. I asked Ed if he were to write a message to the future telling about the past year as a husband and family man, what his message in a bottle would say. He began by saying the last year has been difficult for him along with his family. Although his cancer is under control by taking daily immunotherapy/ chemotherapy, it is constantly on his mind. He returns for frequent checkups every three months to make sure his blood counts are in order. Last year he was hospitalized with covid and transported to Morgantown for intensive care. While all this was taking place there were several health problems within his own family with Covid. “My wife and kids are my rock.”
Ed’s job as superintendent requires that he makes the hard decisions. Those decisions need to be made for the county’s 2300 students in eight different schools; decisions that need to happen for the betterment of the students while always keeping an eye on their education, safety and health. Those decisions need to be made not only for the students, but the educators and staff. During the time of covid, there were decisions made that created concerns for student athletes. Opportunity’s for possible championships were lost as well as experiences for seniors that will never come again. When the governor and health department guidelines directed athletics under specific circumstances be suspended, some in the community were upset. Decisions for the health and safety of the students were made with the guidance of the health department. In our conversation Ed talked about the disappointment expressed by some over the shutdown of sports. Confusion about school closing and canceling of sports was compounded by the fact, Ohio schools across the river continued with restrictions. With the questions raised concerning sport, I asked, were their similar concerns voiced by the loss of academics time for the county’s students.
He responded, “None”.
I asked, before coronavirus what were the biggest challenges you faced as superintendent. He explained that increasing academics is always number one when it comes to education. Beyond that helping kids find money to build college funds or any future opportunities of success is an important part of his job. We spoke about our rural county with its eight different schools and the progress moving all schools forward with technology. Ed is proud of his work with the previous board in getting the Wetzel County Tech Center reopened for vocational training.
I asked, will last year’s class of 2020 get past the loss of the school years ending with no graduation or prom. We spoke of how kids are resilient and most of the graduates have moved on. Some went off to college, while others found jobs and careers out in the world. Those senior events are important, but like most graduates they will move on in life. Hopefully with time, they will look back on their last year in school as an experience that we all shared in different ways.
Finally I asked Ed, are there any other words as a superintendent that you would place into the bottle. “When you make a decision stand with it. If you make that decision with your heart and soul, it is the right thing to do. I’ll quote my dad, ‘If it doesn’t feel right, don’t do it’.” Ed went on to say “If you are a coach, teacher, principal or a superintendent, make the decision, stand up and be in charge.” Ed explained part of his job was to work with the board as he was hired to make decisions. Some of those decisions were not always popular, but he said he could live with them and he doesn’t take that responsibility lightly.
My time with Ed Toman gave me a chance to talk with a man whose life over the past year has been so much more than just the difficulties with Covid-19. Major health concerns for himself and his entire family have weighed heavily on his life. Watching the slow loss of his father whom he greatly admired for his guidance in life took a toll on him in recent months. Battling covid as a family, being responsible for every person in a school system during a pandemic and his wife’s traumatic near death experience at the beginning of April was life-changing both personally and in regards to his career as an educator. He believes that standing up for what is right for the health and safety of the entire counties students and employees was the right thing to do, even though there were those who wanted to base decisions on factors other than education. Maybe in the future, when Ed’s message is found in a bottle by a distant superintendent, pandemics and academic decisions will be answered with an agenda towards common sense for future generations as they look forward Through the Lens.