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Lectures that Save Lives

Nora Shalaway

people1.jpg Retired Ohio  social studies teacher Walt Iliff had no idea he was going to save eight lives when he walked into a high school health classroom four years ago. 

Accompanied by his wife, Kathy, Iliff spoke to the sophomores about the importance and effectiveness of organ donation. When the Iliffs returned the following fall to speak with a new class, they noticed a picture of one of the students they had talked to in the spring hanging on the wall.

“The teacher told us the student had died in an ATV accident over the summer,” Walt recalls. “But because he told his parents that he wanted to donate, his organs and tissues saved eight lives and helped 75 people altogether.”

Walt began teaching students about organ transplantation after giving his wife Kathy, a heart transplant recipient, a kidney in 2001. The couple decided to volunteer for LifeBanc, Northeast Ohio ’s organ procurement organization “in order to show that life can continue.” Last October, LifeBanc gave the Iliffs its Life Preserver of the Year award.

Iliff is not the only NEA-Retired member educating students through LifeBanc. Elaine Spondike, retired school secretary and a former ESP member of NEA’s board of directors, has volunteered for the organization ever since her own liver transplant 11 years ago. Spondike, who has worked with the Iliffs, speaks at middle schools, high schools, and colleges.

“I’m so grateful to have life again. Because of my transplant, I’ve seen four grandchildren be born, have traveled with my husband, and I’m still going,” she says. “I want students to see that donation really does work.”


Teaching with Tales

people2.jpg Although retired after 38 years of teaching elementary school, Mozell Robinson has far from given up educating others. Since 1996, she has taught lessons through storytelling.

Robinson’s storytelling career was a surprise to her. It started soon after she began volunteering at Historic Brattonsville, a historic plantation in York County, South Carolina, that offers visitors a glimpse into 18th and 19th century plantation life.

“One day, the director, Ed Shultz, just announced that I was going to be a storyteller,” Robinson chuckles. “The first time I told stories I was scared to death!” But Robinson had a knack for the art, combining personal stories that teach history with traditional African and African-American tales. She was soon in high demand. Now she performs at middle schools, churches, colleges, and senior centers.

“Stories are important for any age,” Robinson says. She wants her tales to help people with daily life, and recalls a favorite anecdote: “The Lion’s Whisker is a story about a woman’s determination to make her marriage work.

A senior told me that she and her husband had been separated for 10 years and reunited because of that story.” Robinson’s younger audiences learn more age-appropriate lessons such as the wisdom of minding one’s own business. Her dedication to children has earned her both state and national awards.

Robinson, 73, also leads senior aerobic classes. “Being fit helps you mentally,” she explains. “Seniors need to get up and move.” Like any good teacher, Robinson practices what she preaches. She has no plans to slow down any time soon.

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