Centenarian Educators Still Going Strong
‘I Hope They Read’
Margaret Whitaker—a retired lifetime NEA member who celebrated her 100th birthday in March—says the urge to learn has remained fresh since she was a new teacher in 1943.
“I learned every day…I would like everybody that I know to learn all they can, all that they have the opportunity to learn,” Whitaker says.
For 35 years, she taught reading to first- through fifth-graders in the Parkway and Kirkwood, Mo., school districts, and still recalls the enthusiasm of a long-ago student who exclaimed, ‘Oh, Mrs. Whitaker I can read!’” Says Whitaker, “She was thrilled to death.”
From 1943 until 1978, Whitaker guided hundreds toward literacy. “I loved every minute of it,” says Whitaker, who retired to Florida before returning to Missouri 33 years later. Looking back, she says, “It was the happiest time in my life.”
After retirement, Whitaker took post-graduate courses in children’s literature. In celebration of her 95th birthday, she wrote an autobiographical book and gave copies to family members.
“I would hope that everyone that could would get an education, and if they can I hope they read. They would get an education just from reading.”
“My parents voted every time there was an election of any kind, and I knew that the most important thing in life, practically, was to get out there and vote,” Ray says. “When I was old enough, I started voting and I haven’t missed an election yet.”
A resident of El Paso, Texas, for more than six decades, Ray says that after deciding that being a full-time, stay-at-home mom wasn’t for her, she entered Texas Western University (now known as the University of Texas at El Paso) and received her teaching degree.
Ray spent her career teaching first grade at Ramona Elementary School. “It was wonderful,” she says. “I love kids, so I was very happy teaching.”
Her students and her children are her motivation for remaining politically active, and Ray urges everyone to get involved. Ray offers simple advice to Texas educators who want to make a difference at the polls when it comes to public education. “I’d say you need to really get to know your candidates,” she says. “After that, just get out there and vote. And get rid of Rick Perry.”