What do you call a man who agrees to travel on a bus packed with 13-year-olds from Janesville to Washington, D.C., and back?
What do you call him when he does it 40 times?
Some might call him a saint. Most people simply call him Tim.
It’s not unusual for schools to take annual student trips to D.C. But St. Paul’s Lutheran School’s trip this year is special.
For the 40th time, Tim Ebeling, a retired U.S. history teacher at St. Paul’s, is heading up the school’s annual trip to the nation’s capital. Since his first trip there in 1974, he has organized it on three principles: education, monuments and faith.
Math whizzes probably have noticed that 1974 to 2019 spans more than 40 years.
The trips originally started in 1973 and were assigned to teachers on a rotating basis. In 1980, the school asked Ebeling to take over permanently. He has done it every year since then—except for 2011 when the class was too small to justify the trip. Check it out: It adds up to 40.
Students leave Janesville on Sunday, May 5.
When Ebeling retired from teaching in 2011, he was asked to continue leading the trip. He has had a lot of help along the way, including from Deb Natz, his wife, Pat, and most recently Jim Kroll. But the consistent thread has been Ebeling and his devotion to the students.
Kroll had high praise for Ebeling’s Washington, D.C., knowledge.
“If he lived in D.C., he could make a good living as a tour guide,” Kroll said. “I remember the year he got into a White House trivia contest with a Secret Service officer, and Tim won.”
“I’m always amazed at the reaction of the students when we arrive in D.C.,” Ebeling said. “Many of them have never been on a trip like this. Although we talk about the city and the monuments, they gain a strong appreciation of them when they see them in person.”
The educational component consists of research and a presentation on a monument or event by each student. Once the student has completed the assignment, he or she gives a presentation to the class prior to a group viewing.
“Our visits mean more when the students have researched the places we visit,” he said. “We also concentrate on the history of the presidents. It’s something I have studied, and the students really get into it.”
Ebeling tries to make visits to the monuments more than just a sightseeing tour. They all have a special meaning, especially the Lincoln, Washington, Jefferson and Martin Luther King Jr. memorials, he said.
“Of special importance to the students is Arlington Cemetery, the Korean Memorial and the Vietnam Wall,” he said. “I believe it is important to expose the students to the sites that commemorate those who gave the last full measure for their country.”
When the 2004 class was atop the Washington Monument, Ebeling noticed the National Park Service was removing barriers and opening up the World War II memorial.
“We were there for the first day it opened to the public. That was quite a thrill.”
St. Paul’s is a school with a strong faith. Ebeling’s trips include that faith component.
“We remind the students that we have our particular faith, but we respect all faiths,” he said. “After each day in D.C., we conduct an evening prayer, and I lead the students in devotions, during which I point out how fortunate we all are that God has prepared us for such a great experience. We never stray from our core faith beliefs.”
The Washington National Cathedral remains Ebeling’s choice as the most significant memorial in D.C.
“Although it is a working church and cathedral for the Episcopal Diocese of Washington, it is a house of prayer for all faiths,” he said. “The land was set aside by President Washington for what was called a great church for national purposes. No government money was used to build it.
“I can’t think of a better monument to represent what our trip stands for: education, monuments and faith.”
Ebeling’s work has not gone unnoticed by school officials.
“He’s just done a great job,” said Principal Rob Lunak, who is in his third year as principal. “Because of his experience and knowledge, I’m sure the students get a lot more out of the trip.
“I’ve also heard from parents who say how much their kids appreciated Tim and the work he does on the trip,” Lunak said.
How many more trips are on Ebeling’s agenda after 2019?
“That’s a good question, but part of the answer is out of my control,” he said. “As long as God is willing, the school wants me, and my health remains good, I will continue to help with the annual trip. It’s something I have never grown tired of.”