A Third-Grade Education Didn’t Stop My Father

My father only made it through the third grade. But he still accomplished important things and took


Terry Mansfield

3 years ago | 2 min read

My father, Elvin Mansfield, was born into poverty in 1929, and his life was mostly a struggle. His formal education ended with the third grade. However, he never stopped learning and doing what he needed to do to make the most of his situation.

He grew up as one of ten children and married my mother, Lillian, at a relatively young age. I was born not long afterward, in 1951. Then came the birth of my sisters, spaced out every few years.

Obviously, with a growing family, my father needed to work and earn enough to support their basic needs. He got some help from my mom, who worked in factory jobs at various times over the years, as well as from my step-mother, Helen, in the later stage of his life.

So what does a man with just a third-grade education do as far as work goes? After working at various day labor jobs for several years, he eventually saved enough money to open a gas station in the 1960s, which also did engine repair work.

My dad was a self-taught master mechanic, and those valuable, in-demand skills served him very well over the years.

Eventually, he started his own used car sales company, which did reasonably well. Not a natural businessman, nonetheless, he taught himself the basics of salesmanship.

And despite the limits of his formal education, my dad was a voracious reader. He especially loved to read about America’s Old West. He could tell you about many of the famous characters and events from that period of American history.

My father was never destined to become well-to-do but he was determined to make sure his children all graduated from at least high school. In my own case, I did a little better than that by graduating from college and eventually getting a Master’s Degree.

My dad was not prone to show much emotion but I know he was proud of what his children had accomplished in their lives, and he loved us all very much, as we did him.

Sadly, my father’s lifelong habit of smoking led to him getting lung cancer. For the longest time, he didn’t know he had cancer, but he experienced great pain every day because of it.

Unfortunately, this led him to self-medicate to alleviate the pain, which took the form of drinking alcohol every day. Drinking that much alcohol on a regular basis took its deadly toll over the years, both on his health and on his personal relationships.

Despite the severe health challenges he was facing, my dad kept working as a self-employed auto mechanic. There were still many cars on the road with mechanical engines, so his expertise in fixing those kinds of engines remained in demand.

As a side hobby, he self-taught himself carpentry and built a new room for the family home.

My father succumbed to lung and liver cancer at the too-young age of 59. Near the end, the man who had always been strong as an ox had become weak as a little kitten.

But his spirit stayed strong and he left behind a worthwhile legacy of overcoming long odds and being a good provider for his family throughout his life.

He is dearly missed.


Thanks for reading. (Copyright Terry Mansfield. All rights reserved.)

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Created by

Terry Mansfield

Trying to be the best writer I can be. Specialist in eclecticism. Retired corporate exec/retired military officer.







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