"Oh, my gosh, they narrowed the halls," Bob Dalton jokes as he pushes his walker along the sunny second floor of Keewaydin Elementary School in Minneapolis.
It's been three decades since Dalton, 87, strolled these halls, all slender, smiling, 6-feet-1 of him, but he knows exactly where he's going: To Room 201, where for 20 years he made learning fun and unforgettable.
"I don't know anyone else like him," says Ann Hinrichs, 47, who brought Bob on this nostalgia tour one recent morning. "He has influenced me in ways he doesn't even know."
Ann's family moved to Minnesota just before she entered sixth grade. Bob made everything seem possible. She wrote her first song in his class, her first poem ("Hey, Mr. Frog") and learned photography in the darkroom he created in a closet.
"Everything came alive for me that year," Ann says.
When Ann's husband was creating a memory book for her 40th birthday, Bob sent the delighted birthday girl her Mr. Frog poem, which he kept in a file cabinet stuffed with former students' creations. Teacher and student now meet regularly for coffee and conversation.
Bob, a World War II pilot, taught elementary education for 30 years before retiring in 1980 to teach English-language learners. He and his wife, Shirley, live in Edina and have six children, 16 grandchildren, 11 great-grandchildren and hundreds of admirers.
"He had such a calming effect on us," Ann says, recalling how Bob read stories aloud as students laid their heads on their desks. Bullying wasn't tolerated, either.
"He'd put his big hand on a shoulder and say, 'This is how it's going to be in my classroom.'"
That classroom has changed so little -- same benches, same wood cabinets -- and changed so much.
"Look, Bob!" Ann says. "A computer center."
"Amazing," Bob says. "If I could see, I'd come back and sub."
Ann is honored to call her former teacher "friend." But, she says with a laugh, "it took me forever to call him 'Bob.'"