I appreciate you, dear Mrs. Joseph
Just the other day, I was thumbing through the Internet and discovered that May is National Teacher Appreciation Month.
I had two, almost simultaneous, thoughts. First, was Opal Joseph, my third- and fourth-grade teacher, and second, in true History Snoop fashion, I wondered when this appreciation month thing got started?
The “when” turned into a dark run through a rabbit hole that would have made Alice quite happy to have finally found a way out to that crazy world of Wonderland.
A few websites credit Eleanor Roosevelt as inspiring the idea of a “day” in 1953, but add, “It is believed that some states did practice it before, but it is unclear and unsubstantiated.”
It didn’t take long to substantiate. At least as early as 1915 and probably before, various states and local PTA groups created teacher appreciation days, or weeks, or months. The celebrations were scheduled in just about every month, except December, January and the summer months.
So, climbing out of the rabbit hole, I now turn to my most remembered teacher, Opal Joseph. She’s not the only one to thank, but one of the few with a first name I actually remember.
Mrs. Joseph usually taught first and second grade, but I was lucky. After leaving Mrs. Wilson's second-grade class, where I learned to count and write to 100 (along with many other things), I met Opal Joseph.
It was a two-room school in North Albany, up in the Willamette Valley, between Salem and Eugene.
She told us to be proud that we were Oregonians, and that each of us was a pioneer, no matter where we were born. Two or three times a week we listened to educational radio programs telling the history of Oregon’s early pioneers and the Bird Woman, Sacagawea. Once, she even let us listen to part of the World Series.
She read aloud to us every Laura Ingalls Wilder book and asked us to join in. We nervously took turns reading to our fellow students.
A month before the end of the fourth-grade semester, my parents decided they needed to move away. The mill where my father worked had burned down. I remember Mrs. Joseph, my history inspiration, looking into our car window to say goodbye. I never saw her again.
Only recently, I began trying to find out about her history and what had happened to her. How little we know about the people we meet.
I discovered the reason for her fascination with pioneers and her love of their history. Her paternal grandfather, Garrett Long, crossed The Plains in 1852, settling first in California and then, in 1889, he brought the family to Philomath, a small settlement just west of Corvallis.
Garrett met Mary Small, who had crossed The Plains with her family in 1853. The couple married in California in 1861. They raised 10 children, two girls and eight boys, including Opal’s father, Mark.
Opal was born in 1911, and was already reciting for the local literary society before she was 4 years old.
After graduating from high school, where she was captain of the girl’s basketball team, she entered the Oregon Normal School, a teaching college near Salem. There, in 1932, she married Albert Nadeau, a local farmer.
Albert, 28, died suddenly five years later. Her second marriage, two years later to an alcoholic, ended in divorce. Finally, just after the end of WWII, she married Gerald Joseph, a marriage that would last until her death in 1982.
For nearly 50 years, Opal Joseph taught school, never missing a day — other than those two days when her mother died.
In the late 1990s, I returned to North Albany looking for clues. Much was the same, except the two-room school was now a large middle/elementary school with an office. No one there knew what had happened to Mrs. Joseph, but their eyes lit up when I mentioned her name. One woman almost had a tear in her eye, and all she could say was, “Oh, dear Mrs. Joseph.”
It’s May. Teacher Appreciation Month. Time to remember and thank the women and men who made some sort of difference in our lives.
For me. Dear Mrs. Joseph. Thank you. Thank you!
Writer Bill Miller is the author of five books, including“ History Snoopin’,” a collection of his previous history columns and stories. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.