Quad-City Times columnist Bill Wundram brings a bag of bow ties, catalogs and more than 60 years of tying experience to teach members of the Gentlemen's Club at Pleasant Valley High School in Bettendorf, Iowa, on Thursday, November 8, 2012. (Jeff Cook/QUAD-CITY TIMES)


Carrying a paper sack, I headed toward Room 217 at Pleasant Valley High School. No one ever asks me to teach anything, but on this day I was to teach.

Standing before 30 kids, I emptied my paper sack, pulling out strings of bow ties, all colors of the rainbow.

I had been asked by the high school’s Gentlemen’s Club to teach members how to tie a bow tie.

“The kids are excited to have you here,” said Don Fry, an English teacher and mentor of the club that is intended to encourage gentlemanly habits and dressing well in school.

The club has been gaining members since the beginning of the autumn semester. Members have been looking spiffy. They have been opening doors for people, and offering compliments at least three times a day. It has been a classy touch.

But one essential thing was lacking. None of them knew how to tie a bow tie.

That’s why the Gentlemen’s Club asked my tutelage. They shook their heads when I told them it is just as easy as tying your shoelaces. I exaggerated a bit, wanting to give them assurance.

One of the kids asked “why” they should learn. I joked, “If you want to get a girlfriend, wear a bow tie.”

I wear a different bow tie nearly every day. Guys admire them, but are bewildered by how to tie them.

I lectured for two minutes, telling them that bow ties are hip and cool. I also wanted to get across that tying a bow tie is like riding a bike. Once you learn, you’ll never forget.

“Remember, it’s all in your thumbs,” I said as we headed toward a wall of mirrors in the school’s choir room.

There we stood, most of the kids puzzled while they tucked the strings of silk and cotton under their collars. They listened to me and tried. “Pull it tight to your neck. One tail a bit longer than the other. Toss one tail over the other, pull the other over and it begins to look like a bow. Stick a thumb through. Tighten. Pull both ends of the tie. It looks like a crazy butterfly, but you’re on the way.”

“How about this?” said Tyler Akker. In one or two swoops, he had created a bow tie that made me proud. Most of the guys were having trouble.

“I can’t figure out what I’m supposed to do,” said Casey Graham. He was all thumbs, and that could be expected when you first begin to tie a bow. Standing in a row before the mirrors, they fought with the silks, contending with tails and loops. Joe Schuler was making progress with a polka dot.

The students were not alone in their ineptitude. Their teacher had trouble with a colorful striped cotton tie. He never did get a bow tied in the 45 minutes when all were to be learning.

It’s not to be expected, but there are three girls in the Gentlemen’s Club. Many of the guys were jealous because the girls were the best at tying bow ties. Mickey Malmgren tied a bow tie the second time around.

“Girls are more adept with their fingers than boys,”said Fry. “They do bows all the time in their hair.”

When class was over, all agreed they were going to keep trying. Fry said that two of the boys bought ties over the weekend and the whole class claimed they would practice by tying over their knees. It would be a substitute for their necks while they tried to get the hang of it.

The Gentlemen’s Club meets every Thursday after school. This week there will be a PowerPoint showing men of distinction who wore bow ties … Winston Churchill, President Franklin Roosevelt, Humphrey Bogart, U.S. Sen. Paul Simon, historian Arthur Schlesinger, Frank Sinatra and Mayberry’s Barney Fife.

Contact Bill Wundram at 563-383-2249 or bwundram@qctimes.com.