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Ventura County Star: Lifestyle
Earl Wiggins, of Ventura, goes on one last outing as a driving instructor, teaching Jody Herrera, 16, of Oxnard, before letting his DMV teacher's certification expire Monday.
When Earl Wiggins
been around the block a few times, he
really means it.
A little from age perhaps, but mostly it's from his
has seen many city blocks, left turns and parallel parks as a driver's education instructor over the past half century.Most of those years have been in Ventura County
, first at Fillmore High School
, then at Buena High School
in Ventura and for the past 12 years at his
own business, Wiggins' Good Turns Driving School
, based in Ventura. Wiggins
given some 14,000 people behind-the-wheel lessons since he
started doing it in 1953 while he
was in college in Pennsylvania.
shutting off the teacher's ignition.Wiggins
last driving lesson Friday; his
DMV teacher's certification officially expired Monday after he
opted not to renew it.
"I'm giving it up because they are going a little fast and I'm getting a little slow," Wiggins
, 68, said."I'm smart enough to know that you have to know your limits." He's
used to hearing he's
taught driving to two generations of the same Ventura County family.But three is something else.
"Recently in Fillmore, I heard someone say, 'You taught my granddad, too,' " Wiggins
said."That was a shocker.I thought, 'My goodness, I've gotta quit.' "
During a two-hour lesson late last week, Wiggins
dispensed years of wisdom riding shotgun in a white Toyota Corolla, a set of brakes at his
was calm, the voice genial, the talk folksy and almost stream-of-consciousness as situations arose -- a crossing guard, a dog in the street, a steep uphill angle at a stop sign on Poli Street.
"Left foot on the brake," he
to put her
right foot on the gas, gently but firmly."Hear that?You want to keep a steady purr on the accelerator," he
A yellow lasts just three seconds, Wiggins
, then asked, "You're not color-blind, are you?"
"No," a scowling Herrera said in faint protest.
"That's illegal, but don't get mad at him," Wiggins
As Herrera rolled into Meiners Oaks, Wiggins
told stories, not to show off his oratory skills but as a test.
"You scared me the first day, but you're better now," Wiggins
."I like what I see."
last day, Wiggins
had Herrera drive up hills near the Two Trees landmark.He
later bought her
an ice cream cone and seemed "kind of sad" about his
retirement, Herrera said.
a funny character," she
a good instructor; he
has a lot of trust in his
students." Wiggins grew up in Pennsylvania and began his steering-wheel odyssey in 1953, teaching driving while attending Millersville University, which then was primarily a teachers' college.
After a six-month stint in the Army, Wiggins
came west in response to his
wife, Phyllis, who said she
wanted to travel.When she
got a job as a physical education teacher in Fillmore, he
also set up shop there. He taught driver's ed at Fillmore High from 1958-65 and at Buena High from 1965-80.Wiggins then took a break and became a pastor at Ventura Missionary Church.But the teacher's bug bit again, and he started the Good Turns Driving School in 1990. Wiggins
only been in three accidents in his
entire teaching career.One occurred when a girl in Fillmore backed into a tree after the car rolled down a hill.It wasn't her
said; the brakes failed, hers and his
religious strength for his
ability to deal with bad driving and close calls.
For the record, the pro has received two traffic tickets in his
life.The first was for running a stop sign in Pennsylvania, before he became an instructor.
The second occurred years ago on old Telegraph Road between Ventura and Santa Paula, for an illegal pass that Wiggins
still disputes years later.
"I got mouthy," he
recalled with a smile."I told him that I taught driving."
It didn't help; he
still got written up.
By then, Earl
will be spending more time with his
wife.They've been married 45 years, many of them amid his
odd teaching hours of early morning and evenings.
"It disrupted our eating habits," Phyllis said with a laugh.The couple have six children, all of whom were on hand for a retirement open house the Wigginses hosted Sunday. Earl
said he'll miss it all -- telling people to put their hands in the 10-2 position, driving around cones in empty parking lots, other little things.
"I loved that job," he
said."It's what I did best."
Dr. Earl Wiggins is ...
Dr. Earl Wiggins is teacher.