Irl Solomon graduated from Brandeis University in the early 1960s and immediately started to look for a teaching job in or near his hometown of St. Louis. Without giving it much thought, Irl, who had grown up in the middle-class inner suburbs of the Gateway City, took a job in the public schools of East St. Louis.
At the time, this depressed metropolis that looks west across the Mississippi River and stares squarely at the Gateway Arch was a dying city. Always the stepchild compared to its considerably larger Missouri sister, East St. Louis was losing much of its population and tax base. In place of citizens came weeds, crime, and urban blight. By the late sixties, the East St. Louis school system had become one of the most dysfunctional in the nation.
While the Sixties produced more than its fair share of idealistic young crusaders, many of whom saw teaching as a way to change the world, most moved on to more affluent schools or even other careers beyond education after just a few years. Irl Solomon did not. For 38 years, he made the long drive from his home west of St. Louis to teach in the schools east of the Mississippi. Over these many years, he changed many lives. This is the story of how one man devoted his career and his life to making a difference.