August 12, 2011

A shared vision of life and love

‘Smooth’ romantic plan connects couple who have devoted their lives to children and youths

Kathy and Ed Tinder stand by the back door of Roncalli High School in Indianapolis where Ed first showed his romantic interest in Kathy 38 years ago when they both taught at the school. In their 37 years of marriage, the Tinders have dedicated their lives to young people through Ed’s leadership of the Catholic Youth Organization and Kathy’s career as a teacher. (Photo by John Shaughnessy)

Kathy and Ed Tinder stand by the back door of Roncalli High School in Indianapolis where Ed first showed his romantic interest in Kathy 38 years ago when they both taught at the school. In their 37 years of marriage, the Tinders have dedicated their lives to young people through Ed’s leadership of the Catholic Youth Organization and Kathy’s career as a teacher. (Photo by John Shaughnessy)

By John Shaughnessy

Ed Tinder admits that his initial effort to get the attention of the new, young, female teacher wasn’t exactly the smoothest move a guy has ever made in the cause of romance.

Yet years later, Tinder can laugh at his self-described “stupid” plan for three reasons.

First, he eventually won the heart of the woman—a blessing that continues considering that Ed and Kathy Tinder celebrated their 37th wedding anniversary in June.

Second, as another school year begins, the couple will mark a combined 80 years of trying to make a faith-filled difference in the lives of children and young people.

Now the longtime director of the Catholic Youth Organization, Ed is beginning his 41st year of serving the archdiocese while Kathy is starting her 39th year as a teacher at Roncalli High School in Indianapolis.

Then there is the third reason that Ed can laugh at his “stupid” plan: It makes for a good story. That story unfolded in August of 1973 when Kathy became a home economics teacher at Roncalli, where Ed had already been a teacher and coach for two years.

“She caught my eye,” Ed recalls. “One day, I rushed to the back door because I knew she would be there at that time. I said something stupid like, ‘Can I carry your books?’ She said no and kept walking. I said, ‘A few of us are going out after the game on Friday. Would you like to join us?’ I’m asking her out, but I was too shy to ask her out directly. She said yes, and the rest is history.”

They were married 10 months later.

“It’s been a good ride,” Kathy says with a laugh as she sits next to her husband in her classroom. “I don’t know how it could be any other way. Who but me could be his wife? Who but him could be my husband? It’s because of the commitments we both have made that parallel each other.”

Those commitments include the ones they have made to each other, to their three grown children, their two grandchildren—with another on the way—and countless other children and youths through the years.

All in all, it’s a love story—a mature one that shows the impact that two people can have individually and together, even when their lives have been touched by challenges, heartbreak and pain.

From heartbreak to human touch

The heartbreak that Kathy has known has made her the caring teacher that she is.

She was just 9 years old when both her parents died. In the aftermath, she and her two siblings were sent to different places to live. Kathy spent 18 months in a foster home, a time during which she became so sick she had to be hospitalized for six weeks. That’s when an aunt and uncle made room for her in their home.

“I can tell you the only thing that kept me sane was praying to the Blessed Virgin, and saying the rosary every night,” she recalls.

When she attended Christ the King School in Indianapolis, a religious sister who was also a teacher looked out for her and helped her feel good about herself for the first time in a long time. Equally important was the later influence of a professor at Ball State University in Muncie, Ind.

“She knew her students, liked her students and was willing to help go the extra mile,” Kathy says. “She took an interest in me. I’ll never forget her kindness.”

Or her example.

“I know how difficult life can be for young people, and no one necessarily knows about their lives,” Kathy says. “I wanted to be the classroom of refuge. Come into my room and learn a lot of practical skills, but also be in an atmosphere of love and respect. I know how much it can mean when a teacher smiles at you or speaks directly to you. Any show of compassion and kindness can go a long way.”

When Kathy noticed that a student wasn’t eating lunch for several days, she learned that his family was struggling financially. She quietly gave him a few dollars every school day for lunch for a month. She has used her sewing skills to alter a countless number of prom dresses for Roncalli students. And when a Roncalli student died unexpectedly in the spring of 2011, she sat with her students in a circle, all of them holding hands as they tried to deal with their shock and their grief.

“Kathy has reached out in a special way to so many different students over the years,” says Chuck Weisenbach, the principal of Roncalli. “For some, she is a second mother. Others, she is a listening ear. Others, she is the mom that maybe is not present in their homes. Others, she is a counselor or the person who really believes in them.”

“I love the kids, and I know I can make a difference to them,” Kathy says.

What she doesn’t say is that she has taught the past seven years while dealing with a serious kidney disorder. At times, she has even had to give herself dialysis treatments in the middle of a school day. Those two pieces of information are provided by Ed. As he shares those details, there’s a telling tone of admiration in his voice.

“She has an understanding of each child,” Ed says. “She does education with compassion. Her classes are not just individuals learning. There’s some bond between them. In society, that’s what we all need to do better—develop an appreciation for each other, a love for each other.”

Connecting Catholic values and sports

Kathy is equally complimentary about Ed’s role in leading the Catholic Youth Organization, which provides programs in sports, music, chess, science fairs and summer camps for children and youths throughout the archdiocese.

“One of his best qualities is his concern for the children in the program,” Kathy says. “He wants the coaches to know that each child is looking up to them as a role model, and that each team is designed for their improvement and self-esteem. All of the things he does can be traced back to what is best for the kids.”

Ed acknowledges that his perspective about sports has changed since his days as an athlete at the former Bishop Chartrand High School, and his time as a teacher and a coach of football, basketball, baseball and golf at Roncalli during the 1970s. Back then, winning was always a major focus for him. As the head football coach of the Rebels for three years—from 1977-79—Tinder also reflected the intensity and competitiveness that has long marked the school’s football program.

Yet his approach toward sports has evolved in a different direction since he joined the CYO staff in 1980, and became the executive director of the organization in 1984.

He still loves sports and appreciates the value that competition provides in terms of making individuals and teams prepare, focus and give everything they have during a game. But he also sees the greater need to put the emphasis on developing a child as a person rather than just a player—especially in the context of the Catholic faith.

“Connecting all of our programs to Catholic values and Gospel messages is the most important thing we do,” says Ed, who leads a year-round staff of 22 people.

Two of the staff members—Bernie Price and Jerry Ross—help Ed form a remarkable team of dedication and longevity to the CYO. With Ed’s 31 years, Bernie’s 37 years and Jerry’s 28 years at CYO, they combine for 96 years of service in this youth ministry.

Ed also includes among his extended staff the nearly 4,000 men and women who serve as volunteer coaches for CYO teams each year.

The impact of that combined effort on young people is life-changing, according to Weisenbach.

“I and many others in our Catholic community could make a strong argument that outside of the Church and its sacramental presence in our lives that no other agency in the archdiocese is more critical to the Church than the CYO,” says Roncalli’s principal. “Ed has done a phenomenal job of guiding the CYO through the years.”

Ed gives the praise to others.

“The people I get to be around are among the most special people in our community and the Catholic Church,” Ed says. “They’re great people who are dedicated to the faith. I get to work with them in a culture that the CYO is about—developing young people physically, mentally, socially and spiritually.”

That same bond has connected Ed and Kathy Tinder ever since he tried to open a way into her heart by opening the back door at Roncalli for her years ago.

Then there is the bond of their marriage.

“We both believed in the commitment of marriage when we got married,” Kathy says. “We talked about it. It helps that we have shared the same goals and values. We just fit together.”

The fit continues.

“There’s no question that a marriage is tremendously challenging, but we’ve had the good fortune of having our paths cross,” Ed says. “The commitment grows in a marriage beyond the two individuals. We have the commitment of our children, our grandchildren, our jobs and our example. We take those seriously.”

He smiles and says, “We were fortunate to meet at the back door.” †


Related stories: CYO tries to hold the line in ‘the tug of war’ of youth sports | Involvement in CYO sports continues to be on the rise

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