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For this segment of our Sense of Community series, we hear a remarkable story of a schoolteacher who left such a mark that 63 years later, one of her former students remembered her and nominated her as an outstanding teacher for our series. KSMU's Jennifer Moore reports.
Delano: I started teaching in Republic in 1936 for 85 dollars per month.
92-year-old Virginia Pat Delano is petite, spunky and to-the-point.
She says when she graduated, a woman could be a nurse, a secretary or a schoolteacher. So she chose teaching, and fortunately, she says, she liked it.She married a young man in 1941, a few months before the attack on Pearl Harbor.
“And he went into service on Valentine’s Day of ’42," Delano says. "And he went overseas almost immediately. He went to North Africa.”
It was while her young husband was overseas that she started working at ReedJunior High School in Springfield, now known as Reed Middle School. She was known as Mrs. Delano, and she was the new, tough 9th grade English teacher.
“I didn’t allow any cheating," she remembers. "I made a big deal. I said, 'If there was 50 cents on that person’s desk, would you reach over and take it?’"
Delano says she remembers those years well.
"Times were so hard. The 14-year-old boys would have for lunch a hard biscuit with a piece of country ham," she recalls.
One of those 14-year-old boys would never forget Mrs. Delano. She ran into him a few years ago after six decades of not seeing him…and he recognized her on the spot.
"I was at a Lady Bears basketball game. And I said, “My God! That was the war years—forty-two, forty-three, forty-four and forty-five!”
The former student who recognized Mrs. Delano, and who nominated her for our series, is Springfield resident Ed Smith.
"She looks enough like she did back in 45 the year I was in the 9th grade for me to recognize her immediately," Smith says.
Smith says the lessons he learned from Delano’s classroom have stuck with him, and that she had a way with inspiring her students.
"When I write something, her name always comes into my mind. I want to do this right so Mrs. Delano would be proud," he adds.
Her toughness aside, Smith says Delano had a good sense of humor, and made learning fun. In return, she not only taught them grammar…she earned their respect.
"I’ve had other teachers that impressed me in certain ways," said Smith. "And some left a mark. And you remember them."
Delano says, for her, teaching young people was more than just about books.
"When I started teaching, I thought that I was supposed to mold character, as well as teach grammar," she says.
Back at her home,Delano shows me a wall of old photographs. One is a black-and-white portrait of her--a bright-eyed beauty with her hair pulled back in a classic 1940s hairstyle.
She also shows me a picture of her late husband, who was in the Air Force as a weatherman.
This picture of her late husband Bill Delano is the exact same picture that sat on her desk at Reed Junior High School during the war years, and when Ed Smith was her student.
Delano went on to teach Latin at Greenwood Laboratory School, and taught at Southwest Missouri State University, now MSU. Delano says she never had a student she didn’t like.
"I got aggravated with them….but I liked them," she says.
As for her being nominated for our Sense of Community series, Delano says she couldn’t believe someone would remember her after all those years.
"It’s almost worth living 90 years to receive this kind of recognition," she says.
Virginia Pat Delano: nominated as an outstanding teacher by a former student whom she had in her 9th grade English classroom...in 1945.
For KSMU’s Sense of Community Series, I’m Jennifer Moore.