It’s back to school time in Manitoba.
This year the Retired Women Teachers’ Association of Manitoba is celebrating its 65th anniversary and the lives of two master teachers, Ada Allan and Jean Deans. Both educators attended Normal School, graduated in 1933, began their career in one room schools in rural Manitoba, taught for 40 years, retired for 40 years and attained the age of 102 years.
What an honour it was for me to meet these women who were living independently in their own apartments and appreciating life to the fullest.
Sadly, Miss Allan passed away in July but Mrs. Deans has plans for her 103rd birthday on Jan, 7, 2017.
102 year old people are often asked how they managed to live so long. Ada Allan’s stock reply was, “Never drank, never smoked, never married.”
Both women attributed their mental acuity to keeping up with current affairs and their keen following of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and the Winnipeg Jets.
During the Depression years teaching jobs often offered experience and room and board but no salary!
Ada Allan counted herself most fortunate to be offered a position that paid $35 a month at Oakdale, near Neepawa, School District 709. Ada paid $12 a month room and board, which included meals and laundry. She shared a bedroom with one of her students.
Never having touched a horse before, Ada adapted quickly loading lunch pails with oats to feed Minnie who took her to school each day by buggy. Ada was responsible for taking cream cans full of water for the children as there was no well at the school.
Supplies were limited. Starting a fire in the stove to keep the classroom warm began the city girl’s career at being industrious.
In the days of ink wells and before Gestetner machines, Ada made her own duplicate copies of student handouts. This was accomplished with a deep cookie pan and a can of hectograph jelly. With a shortage of carbon paper, using prints from master copies pressed over the jelly saturated in hot water meant she could get fifteen copies per imprint.
School doors were never locked as the only intruders were mice. Discipline problems were rare as the teacher was revered. And the entire community rallied around the Christmas pageant that the teacher was expected to write, direct, and produce.
Early days of teaching in various one room schools prepared Ada Allan well for her teaching jobs in Winnipeg.
She retired in 1972 after an illustrious award winning career. Driving until age 97, she served on the Executive of the Retired Women Teachers’ Association and volunteered in many community efforts, including Meals on Wheels, the Rotary, her church and at Dalnavert Museum. “I’ve had a good life,” she said.
Winnipeg truly is a city of one degree of separation and there is a most poignant connection with Jean Deans and Community News Commons.
When CNC’s story about the bus driver who gave his shoes to a homeless man went viral, it resonated with one of Jean Dean’s former students. The caring exhibited by that bus driver reminded Jean’s student of a poem her favorite teacher had written in her autograph book:
One rule to guide you in your life
It’s always good and true,
To do onto others as you would
Have them do onto you.
Reliving that school memory prompted the now grown up student to ask, “Whatever happened to Mrs. Deans?” which led her to ask a community newspaper that very question. What they discovered was a centurion living across from the school from which she retired. Jean Deans became a headliner just like that inspirational bus driver.
Equally inspiring is Jean’s philosophy for a long life. “Be active,” she advises. When Jean retired she took up golf and purchased a bike with her first pension cheque. She went on a six week bike trip and “visited all the people who said, ‘do drop in’.”
She won a Winnipeg Tribune golf trophy and drove her car till her mid 90’s. A widow, the mother of four and grandmother has a wish to move to Fred Douglas Lodge. Because she knew Fred and for the meal program.
Her assessment by the WRHA deemed her too fit at 102 for assisted living. While enjoying good health, Jean says,“ I could do with some new body parts.”
Jean’s first job teaching 15 Kindergarten to Grade 8 students was at Wolverine School in western Manitoba for $350 per year. She too boarded with a family. Jean taught all summer as the school was closed for months after the Christmas concert due to extreme cold.
Competition was fierce for teaching jobs and Jean won out due to her creativity. In her district, students got to read prospective letters and had a vote in who was hired. They all wanted the teacher who “wrote her application in green ink.” That ingenuity served her well on the Executive of the Retired Women Teachers’ Association as she organized many a fashion show and presentations.
Jean taught in Portage la Prairie, Winkler and Morden before settling in schools in East Kildonan. Her specialty was Grade 4 and she never knows when she’ll encounter a former student such as her current building’s maintenance man.
While both women dreaded the surprise visits from the School Inspector, they loved their students and teaching. Both Miss Allan and Mrs. Deans serve as examples of a life well lived in the service of children.
Retired women teachers can experience some of the camaraderie Ada and Jean lovingly treasured by attending the RWTA 65th anniversary luncheon, Sept. 29, 2016 at the Masonic Hall, Corydon at Osborne at 11:30 a.m. To reserve a place for the served lunch ($20) call Brenda at 204-284-1437. Entertainment, prizes, free parking.