Sydney was born in 1890, son of a shopkeeper in the small town of Dodge Center, 12 miles west of Rochester, Minn.
His schooling and strong family support of education led him to graduate from the University of Minnesota, focusing his studies on economics and political science. During college Sydney joined the Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC) program. Upon graduation, he went to work in the Chicago area until the beginning of the first Great War, World War I.
At the age of 28 - the average age of a WWI American soldier was 25 - Sydney enlisted in the U.S. Army because his country needed him. On May 19, 1918, shortly before his deployment to the battlefield in Europe, he was stationed at Camp Merritt, N.J. He wrote a letter to his mother and sister Edith, which reflected the anxiety, patriotism and resolve shared by so many newly enlisted American men at the time.
Your letter addressed to me at this place reached me Thursday night, much to my surprise and pleasure. We expected to have leave here a day or so ago but orders came to await the regiment, so will not leave until the end of the week in all probability. ...
We have been too busy to read about the War, so few of us know what is going on, and few of us care. We are ready for whatever is in store for us, and eager 'to go'. Personally, I have been looking forward to this for over a year and I am more than glad that I am to have the opportunity of getting into it. If I come back (and I am planning on it), it will be a source of satisfaction to feel that I have done a man's part and that I have followed in the footsteps of the famous fighters in the past. If I don't come back, I hope I shall have done my full duty, and nothing of which you will be ashamed. ...
By the time this reaches you, we shall probably be on our way. I have my full equipment, including an O.D. 'Tin Hat' such as you see in pictures and a revolver that would make Robert sleepless for a week - it is a huge Colt .45, seen in the movies of western outlaws, and I hope it is as deadly as it looks. ...
As the last thing I want to say what I have said before - I shall think of you and Edith and Bert and Robert and wonder what you are doing. Don't worry about me; no news will be good news, and whatever may happen will be for the best. I expect to return and we must think accordingly. Write as often as you can. I will do my best to answer."
Sydney's regiment saw significant action during the war, but Sydney made it home safely. Upon his return he began his teaching career in Mankato, Minn., before taking a job in Hibbing, Minn. In Hibbing, he rose to superintendent then on the position of dean of Hibbing Junior College until his retirement.
Sydney had a passion to keep those men he led in war safe and the determination that his students should reach their potential both scholastically and in life. There are heroes in war and in education, both sharing the characteristic of putting the needs of others before the needs of their own. Sydney Patchin will always be remembered as a hero in the classroom as well as one on the battlefield.
Editor's note: Steve Patchin is the director of the Center for Pre-College Outreach at Michigan Technological University.