Jeremiah Walker’s day started out no differently than most who have to make the often-dreaded trip to the Department of Driver Services (DDS.)
As he walked towards the Cumming location’s building on Friday, the Forsyth Central High School English teacher hoped he could be in and out quickly, dodging the long line and frustrating paperwork that frequently accompanies the errand.
Instead, his experience was much different than he expected.
“I got to the DDS and there was a senior citizen’s bus unloading,” he said. “I held the door open and that kind of started how everything transpired.”
Inside the building, the Forsyth resident, who also serves as a wrestling coach at Central, met an elderly woman, Herta, who he said helped change his perspective on day-to-day life moments.
“She started telling me about how she is from Germany and came over in 1940 on the SS America and just started talking about growing up in that era, the 1930s in Germany and how amazing it was to come over on that ship.”Jeremiah Walker, Forsyth Central High School English teacher
“I got my paperwork and I started filling it out and then Herta — who I had walked by — asked me if I could help her,” Walker said. “As first, she thought that I worked there, but I said ‘absolutely’ and sat down next to her.
“She said that [she was] almost completely blind and it was very hard for [her] to fill out paperwork. I had already had my stuff filled out and went to turn it in, but I told the lady at the desk that I didn’t want to be right in the midst of helping [Herta] when my name got called, so I asked her to push it to the back and I’d let her know when I was finished helping [Herta.]”
Walker said as he sat next to Herta — he does not know her last name – she explained she had just moved to the area from Florida and was trying to apply for a Georgia identification card.
“[Herta] got out this folder from her purse with all of her information,” he said. “We just started writing it down and I got her date of birth, which was 1929, and it was at that moment when I needed her Social Security number and she pulled out her Social Security card that she started telling me about [her life.] I think it spawned a memory of when she came to the country.
“She started telling me about how she is from Germany and came over in 1940 on the SS America and just started talking about growing up in that era, the 1930s in Germany and how amazing it was to come over on that ship.”
Walker said while he did not ask Herta if she was Jewish — by 1940, German Führer Adolf Hitler had already begun his mass extermination of Jews — for many non-Jews, too, it was a harrowing time in the country.
“The iconic moment for me was when her eyes started welling up with tears and she started talking about how proud she is to be an American,” he said. “That really resonated with me. You see all the negativity in the media, but it was a nice reminder that if we all just pause for a moment and slow down and talk to each other, we could really learn so much from one another.
“This isn’t about glorifying [my] act of kindness — I don’t really think that’s anything that special. What’s special to me is the reminder that ‘wow, just slowing down for a few moments in a place where we usually try to rush out of can [lead to] a remarkable story and you can find out a lot of information about somebody’s life that really puts things in perspective.’”
As of Tuesday, Walker said he was still working to find Herta, originally having posted his story and a photo on social media in the hopes that someone online would help him locate her.
He said he wants to find her so she can speak to his classes at Central.
“A big part of our school philosophy is serving selflessly,” he said. “That’s why it’s so important for me to find her — not just to say, ‘hey, look how much traction this [has gotten,] but I want her to come in and speak to my students.
“We’re trying to advocate for our kids to grow up,” he said, “and serve selflessly and to serve something that’s greater beyond themselves and there’s no easier way to do that than just be kind.”