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Ginny Maikranz's lesson: You're never too old ...

Published: Sun, September 8, 2013 @ 12:00 a.m.

By Todd Franko (Contact)

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.

Her flaw?

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 tfranko@vindy.com. He blogs, too, on vindy.com. Tweet him, too, at @tfranko.


1toddfranko(101 comments)posted 2 years, 10 months ago

Hi Todd,

I just read your article about the teacher we called Mrs. Maikranz. I was one of her students in the early 70s. She was tough--even though I was a straight-A student who went on to become valedictorian, she would red-line essays I wrote at least twice to force me to learn how to communicate effectively. I was a math major and hated to write papers, but I knew how, and that made it much easier for me to be successful in college and in my career.

I ran into her about 15 years after I graduated and was able to thank her for helping to shape my life. I wondered if you have any contact info for her? I would love to be able to thank her again.


Cathy F.

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2toddfranko(101 comments)posted 2 years, 10 months ago

She truly was the best English teacher Poland ever had and the reason I majored in English, not too mention one of the coolest women I ever knew. Great piece, thank you.
Ed M.

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3toddfranko(101 comments)posted 2 years, 10 months ago

Hello Todd,
I enjoyed reading your article in today's Vindy.
But, I wish you could have included a photo of Ginny with the article.
Even a photo from her eventful past would have been a nice addition.

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4toddfranko(101 comments)posted 2 years, 10 months ago

Dear Todd --
Thanks to the wonders of facebook and google, your piece on Ginny Snyder made its way to me today and I couldn't be more delighted. She is the reason I teach. If I can end up half the woman she was in the classroom and still is out of it, I'll really be something. 
I lost touch after I graduated (I'm class of '82), so if you can, please pass on that her students love her right back. 
(she would know me, though, as Jean Lindsey)
Department of Writing and Linguistics
Georgia Southern University
Email: plindsey@georgiasouthern.edu

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5savarose(7 comments)posted 2 years, 10 months ago

I, too, was a student of Mrs. Snyder's in the early 80's. She was one of the two best teachers I ever had (her colleague Roger Smith being the other). Just an amazing person who managed to make you think while making learning enjoyable. Please give her my best wishes. :)

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6happytobeme(1 comment)posted 2 years, 10 months ago

I was just talking to my freshman in high school daughter about English teachers, we were comparing notes when I saw a reference to this article. She LOVES her English teacher, is convinced she will be an incredible writer because of him. I shared that my high school english teacher, Mrs. Snyder, helped me not only write well, but right my soul. I am forever grateful to her. Whatever faults she had, we didn't notice. We saw someone who cared about us not only as students but as people. Thank you Mrs. Snyder!!

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