Every Friday at 11:30 a.m. Freiler, 89, takes his place at the head of the Character Counts table in the cafeteria at Freiler School, 2421 W. Lowell Ave. His clear blue eyes survey the room and light up when students and parents come up to greet him with hugs and words of thanks.
“I enjoy it. Seeing all the little kids,” Freiler said during lunch Friday, before continuing with a laugh: “A couple of them ask me, ‘Did you build this school?’”
Freiler retired from teaching in 1985 after spending 36 years as a science, social studies and physical education teacher. Freiler said he was proud to have established track and field, wrestling and swimming programs when he first moved to Tracy with his family in 1963. He stayed active even when caring for his wife after she began using a wheelchair in the mid-1980s, once pushing her in her wheelchair to Stockton for a fundraiser marathon.
“October 30, my wife passed away,” Freiler said. “I really miss her. I’m home alone now except when my son comes down (from Yuba City) every couple of weeks.”
Charlotte Freiler, to whom he was married 71 years, spent the last months of her life in a convalescent home.
“So I used to go down there every day about noontime. That’s when they had the cooked meal,” Freiler said. “So I would go down there. We had our own table.”
He would stay until the evening, reading to her from National Geographic, Smithsonian or other magazines he brought with him.
With the help of one of his many friends at Tracy Unified School District, Freiler School secretary Judy Mizuno, he decided to continue to make lunch plans at least one day a week.
“When my wife passed away, I said, ‘Well, I could be sitting home having lunch by myself, or I could come down here,’” he said.
During lunch Friday at the school, eighth-grader Daniel Figueroa approached to shake Freiler’s hand, something he said he does every week.
Kayla Hill brought her daughter, a kindergartner at the school, to give the 89-year-old a hug.
“It’s amazing,” said Hill, who learned tennis from Freiler when she was 9. “I think it’s great for the kids to see too. It’s almost like a history lesson.”
In fact, Freiler is still teaching students. He spent another two hours after lunch Friday speaking to classes about his experiences during his 3½ years as a signalman in the Navy.
He spent that time, he said, traveling to places like Murmansk, Russia, and the Middle East and Mediterranean. He brought back mementos he would eventually use in his lessons.
“I had all these souvenirs. We were teaching Europe, Africa and the Middle East. And I could show them, ‘Look at this, I’ve got a fez from Egypt. I’ve got these jugs from Iran.’ I had all these things,” Freiler said.
He traded cigarettes, which he could buy for 60 cents a carton on the
merchant ships he served on, for pieces of the cultures he experienced across the globe.
Now, the school named for him is using his visits as incentive to teach more personal lessons. The Character Counts program at Freiler School allows students to nominate their peers for recognition for acts of kindness and morality.
At the end of the week, the selected students get to have lunch at the Character Counts table with the man whom TUSD thought so vital to the character of education in Tracy, it named a school after him in August 2001.
Freiler just likes doing what he has always done: stay active and be around Tracy kids. “I enjoy it, that’s the whole thing.”
• Contact Michael Ellis Langley at email@example.com or 830-4231.