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DIANE MAKAR MURPHY A teacher-pupil bond extends 68 years



Published: Tue, July 30, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



Betty Miller of St. Clairsville had a first-grade schoolteacher she admired immensely. Last week, she visited her. Said Betty, "When I told people I was going to see my first-grade teacher, they said, 'Your first-grade teacher?" With Betty 75 years old, the math was more than a little surprising.

But it was true. After 35 years of teaching, and 98 years of living, former first-grade teacher Margaret McCroba defies her age. Her mind is sharp, her voice gentle, and laughter quick to flow from her red-lipsticked lips.

Eighty years ago, Margaret was barely a high school graduate when she started substitute teaching, having already attended college. By 19 years old, she was a full-time first-grade teacher with certification earned from Muskingam College's normal school, in New Concord, Ohio (where incidentally she lived across the street from a teenager named John Glenn).

A lucky student

It was 1934 when she met little Betty Steele, one day to marry and become Betty Miller. Margaret taught her students phonics and reading so well that almost seven decades later, Betty is still talking about it.

"I'm a good speller, and I can pronounce words well. She was a marvelous teacher," she said.

Betty had seen Margaret off and on in their small hometown of St. Clairsville, crossing paths in stores or on the street throughout the years. But when Betty moved to Indianapolis for nine years, their occasional meetings stopped.

Bumping into a cousin of Margaret's led to a reunion last year. Last week, Betty visited again, surprising Margaret at her home in Marion Living Center, where she moved recently because of "congestive heart problems," though you would never know it to talk to the sprightly and bright near-centenarian.

"I loved teaching. I always wanted to be a schoolteacher," Margaret said, adding with a laugh, "When I'm reincarnated, I'll come back as a teacher."

How's she doing?

Margaret now lives in a well-kept one-room apartment at Assumption Village. A gold velvet wing-back chair nearly swallows her diminutive form. Margaret wears her hair curly and light brown and looks through not-so-thick glasses. A hearing aid nearly hides in her right ear, but she hears quite well. Up until last year, she lived with her only son, David, and his family in Berlin Center.

During Margaret's career, her class sizes went from as few as 20 to as many as 47. Betty recalled her first-grade class of 10 being taught by Margaret along with a second-grade class of 12 in a combined classroom. "It was all yours," Margaret said. "You were the art teacher. You were the music teacher. And you taught everything else. At that time, it was just expected. It was your job to do it all. That was why you were hired."

"I never had a problem," she said. "You hear today of discipline problems. We didn't have them. I don't recall any. I went out to Key Ridge School in a farming community. The respect the teacher had -- you didn't have trouble."

Got married

In 1927, Margaret met Charles McCroba, recognized him instantly as her future husband, enjoyed a whirlwind nine-month courtship and got married. Most schools forbade married women from teaching, but Margaret found a position in a rural school and helped support their family into the Great Depression. In 1935, she became pregnant with David, and stayed home with him until he entered fourth grade. By then, the marriage rules had changed, and Margaret taught until her retirement after 35 years of service.

"I know I have exceptional health for my age," she said, and shyly added that it may be due to a lifetime spent eating onions. One can't help but wonder, though, if it didn't have something to do with being a teacher so admired that former pupils remember her after 68 years.

murphy@vindy.com




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