At almost 86 years old, Ginny Snyder has lived a life of one momentous event after another.
Yet she may have saved her best for last.
As a child, her mom could not afford to keep her after Dad left the family.
Ginny was sent to live with a neighbor for a bit before eventually landing in an orphanage.
That led to 10 foster-care homes before, finally, as a teenager, finding an aunt’s home in Cornersburg.
As a teenager, she finally started a normal life.
She married her first love, Tink. Before their family could get started, he died in her arms after a car wreck.
With a second marriage yielding two kids and them finally in school, Ginny felt a yearning to go to college.
Her husband, Jack Maikranz, said, “Go.”
By age 40, she had her master’s degree and was hired to teach in Poland schools.
While plying away at a teaching career, she developed her golf game, rising to women’s club champion at Tippecanoe Country Club.
And she developed her painting touch, too. Her home, said best friend Billie Nelson, is an art gallery mainly of Ginny’s work.
But there was a constant cloud over Ginny’s life.
It was a flaw, she felt, especially because she was a teacher.
“I felt bad talking to kids about how to live their lives, and when you’re not doing better things, you’re a hypocrite,” said Ginny.
Several times a day during school, she would sprint to the teacher’s lounge to light a cigarette.
Smoking was her demon.
“I had a very busy life, and also had a lot of trauma,” Ginny said. “And when something happened, I’d be back at smoking.”
Nelson, who double- dated with Ginny as teens and whose husbands would become friends, too, said they were after Ginny to quit smoking due to her variety of health ailments.
“I quit in 1976. We all knew it was bad for us,” Nelson said. “We’d say, ‘Ginny you shouldn’t be smoking.’ We all got after her. We loved her dearly. But Ginny would not quit. Everything we did would not work.”
A defiant Ginny would tell them her plans otherwise.
And it often would include a curse word. Apparently, as gifted as she was in many things, so, too, was she at expletives.
But her first love was teaching.
She retired in 1988 due to a freak injury. But she left a pretty good mark on her district.
The guy who hired her to her first and only school district was retired Poland principal Howdy Friend.
“What a gal. She was just a great person. What a job she did for us,” said Friend. Even mentioning Ginny’s name evoked from Friend a nice giddiness as he recalled Ginny.
“She was the best English teacher that Poland ever had,” said Nelson. “Just fantastic — and I got that from her students.”
“She knew the English language, and she treated those kids like they were her own.”
... But for that one flaw.
Ginny — who grew up in orphanages and foster care, who married her teenage love only to have him die in her arms, who raised two kids then went to college and got her master’s, became a teacher, won a golf title and paints prolifically — had one last thing still to accomplish.
On June 25, at age 86, she smoked her last cigarette.
Yep — she smoked for 72 years. She smokes no more.
It was 7:30 that night, and she remembers it well because she came to this realization:
“I’m not going to die being a smoker,” she said.
As much as it was for her, she also wanted to do it for her students — even though she last taught them 25 years ago.
So she wrote a letter to us:
This letter is directed to all the previous students of Poland Seminary High School. Howdy Friend, one of Poland’s finest principals, hired me as an English teacher. I tried living up to his great standards but I felt I had one serious drawback as a teacher. Never had I had more fun nor have I learned so much as when I was your teacher — even your parents were very special people.
My self-criticism was that I smoked cigarettes. After each class, I darted to the teachers lounge to smoke a cigarette.
My letter of apology goes to the hundreds of kids who stumbled across me as their teacher. Today, I am close to 86 years old. After 72 years, your teacher, Ginny Maikranz Snyder, quit smoking! I cannot pass judgment on others who still smoke. I speak only for myself. Remember that smoking in my day was the fashion. It goes to prove that things, ideas and people do change.
Thanks to my former students for putting up with me. I loved each and every one of you.
Ginny Maikranz Snyder
Todd Franko is editor of The Vindicator. He likes emails about stories and our newspaper. Email him at email@example.com. He blogs, too, on vindy.com. Tweet him, too, at @tfranko.