Austin teacher remembered as unique, inspiringPublished 10:40am Thursday, April 11, 2013
If it weren’t for his former Austin Public Schools teacher, Bob Vilt would never have tried his hand at teaching.
“I went into elementary education wanting to teach like Edith Morey,” Vilt said. “She set this great example.”
Edith G. Morey, 87, died April 1 at Comforcare Good Samaritan Center in Austin. The grade school teacher, who taught at Austin schools until her retirement, had a reputation for doing things differently, and capturing students’ interest from day one.
“She was just an incredible educator and teacher,” Vilt said. “I’ve never found any teacher that even came close.”
Morey was born Aug. 16, 1925, in Doland, S.D. She went on to graduate from Morningside College in Sioux City, Iowa, and later moved to Austin.
Vilt recalls being in her class at Banfield Elementary in the mid 1950s. Morey read to her students, never scolded them and easily kept order in the class, he said. She led the class creatively, finding ways to engage even those students who disliked school.
“We made a paper mache globe of the world that was huge — as tall as we were,” Vilt said. “That’s something that really stands out.”
The class constructed, painted and labeled the globe, then each student made his or her own about the size of a baseball to give to parents as an invitation to come in and see the full-sized model.
Another of Morey’s former students, Mike House, said Morey was the person who inspired his enthusiasm for school.
“I especially remember that she was so much different than anyone else I had ever seen,” House said, “Everything changed.”
Morey would find students’ strengths and encourage them, he said. When the class covered a subject one student didn’t care for, she would pair him or her up with a student who did, so the interest would be contagious.
“She found the best in every person,” House said.
Though many of Morey’s students went on to leave Austin and lost touch with her, Vilt kept in contact. The two would walk around downtown and catch up with one another.
“I would still meet up with her periodically,” he said. “I always really appreciated her and I think everybody did.”
Morey had a penchant for traveling, and in her free time she visited many places in the U.S. and England.
Toward the end of her life, dementia began to take hold, and Morey’s faculties started to slip away. Her guardian for the last 12 years, Jeanine Marks, said the light never left Morey’s eyes. Marks knew her as an inquisitive person who never missed an opportunity to teach.
One memory stands out in particular. Marks had just had a baby, and Morey was already holding objects up in front of the little boy and teaching him what they were.
“Teaching was in her heart,” Marks said.
Vilt would still pay visits to her during her time under Marks’ care. Eventually, Morey became unable to communicate because of her condition.
On occasion, Vilt mentioned Morey in articles he wrote for the Herald. One day, House’s wife discovered from reading those that Morey was still alive and living in Austin. About two years ago, House, who now lives in South Carolina for part of the year and Ohio for the rest, set to task writing a thank you note to his old fourth-grade teacher from 1956 that, as he put it, was “long overdue.”
Mike Ruzek, owner and operator of Austin Health Insurance Agency and a graduating member of the same 1964 high school class as House, said the letter showed what an impact Morey’s teaching had made.
“Fifty-five years and he has such fond memories of her to write this letter,” Ruzek said.
Originally, House said he did not intend to sign the letter, as he thought many of Morey’s students would have said exactly the same thing given the opportunity.
“I really wrote it as an open letter,” he said. “You can imagine many, many others had that point of view.”
Ruzek and his wife, along with Vilt, presented a framed copy of the letter to Morey during a ceremony they put together in August 2011. Though that moment has passed, Morey was still being commended for it at her funeral Friday afternoon.
“They had copies of the letter for everybody that attended,” Ruzek said. “Some of her former students were there.”
Of the former students he met, Ruzek said many thought Morey was ahead of her time as a teacher, and made a point of emphasizing her students strengths not only to them, but the whole class.
“One gal said, ‘she tricked us into learning,’” Ruzek said.
Morey was preceded in death by her parents and her siblings, and she is survived by nieces and nephews. Memorials are preferred to Comforcare Good Samaritan Center.