Ups and downs of a life in teaching

With the country just beginning to pull itself out of the Great Depression and facing another World War on the horizon, the variety of employment opportunities for young women was still somewhat limited. “Girls could be teachers, nurses, or secretaries – or scrub floors, which I did for a while,” Dorothy Roush, now of Redwood Falls, said. Dorothy chose to be a teacher – a choice she has never regretted, even while life took an unexpected turn or two. Her first teaching job, which brought her to the Southwestern Minnesota community of Morton, could easily have been a culture shock for the young Miss Dorothy Mitchell. She had graduated four years earlier from St. Paul Central High School – with 731 classmates. Her first high school seniors at Morton High School – the Class of 1943 – numbered 18. However, Dorothy – a pastor’s daughter – was not new to small town America. Born in Kansas, she spent her growing-up years in Colorado and Michigan before the family moved to LeRoy, Minnesota. “LeRoy is right on the Minnesota/Iowa border,” Dorothy explained. “My brother and I would go out to play in the morning and when it was time to come home for dinner, he would tell Mother that we had gone to Iowa.”    Such comments earned him an elbow in the ribs from Dorothy but, she admitted, it was true. “We’d walk six blocks and we were in Iowa.” The family later moved to Hastings; while they were living there, Dorothy’s father passed away. Prior to his death, however, he had made arrangements for his family to relocate to St. Paul. “Mom was from St. Paul and Dad had been there 20 years,” Dorothy related. “We moved close to friends and near Macalester College. They took good care of us. “Dad had ‘paid it forward’.” Life in the Macalester neighborhood in the 1930s was relatively quite – and very safe. “We lived a mile from college and I walked to and from everyday,” Dorothy said, adding that even those days when they studied until midnight, she still walked home. “Now I wouldn’t think of it,” she said with a bit of a shudder. Graduating with a degree in music – and lots of miles on her shoes – Dorothy was hired to teach English and Social Studies to 10th, 11th, and 12th grades as well as Music and Art to the 7th and 8th grade. “Music was easy, but I have no artistic ability,” she admitted with a smile. One of her students, Dorothea Paul, who went on to make quite a name for herself with her paintings of farm life in Minnesota, was also one of Dorothy’s Saturday piano students. “After piano lessons, Dorothea’s parents would take another teacher and I to Redwood Falls so we could shop,” Dorothy related. “Then they would treat us to a movie. “The town (of Morton) kind of adopted me.” It was a good relationship, but by 1945 Dorothy was ready for new challenges. She moved across the Minnesota River to Redwood Falls where she accepted the job as “K through 6” music teacher, elementary choir director, junior high music teacher and choir director. She also taught senior high rudiments of music as well as directing the choir and vocal ensembles. Dorothy was busy with teaching duties, but still found time for church and a social life. She served as choir director at First Presbyterian Church and, of course, chummed around with her peers – including a young farmer by the name of Stanley Stassen. She and Stanley married in 1950 and, after finishing out the 1950-51 school year, Dorothy resigned from teaching. The couple set up housekeeping on a farm between Redwood Falls and Wabasso. With three daughters (born in 1953, 1955, and 1957), Dorothy was content to raise her babies – and, among other activities, direct the choir at New Avon United Methodist Church. “I did go back to (classroom) teaching for five months in 1953.” “They (Redwood Falls High School) had had five English teachers from September 1 to January 1. Mr. Gray (high school superintendent) called me in to teach for two weeks and never called anyone else,” Dorothy related. It seems the students had been misbehaving for their first five English teachers that year. “It was a big surprise to the students when I walked in January 1. I had all those students from K through 12 and knew all their names,” she said with a grin. The jig, as they say, was up. The remainder of her daughters’ younger years, Dorothy did some substitute teaching and tutored home bound students. It was while helping the home bound students realize their academic potential, that Dorothy found her passion was one-on-one teaching situations. “So when I went back to teaching I went into Special Ed,” she explained. Dorothy began as a Title I instructor at Wabasso in 1966. Then, in 1967, her husband, Stanley, passed away. “Nineteen sixty-six through 1969 is all kind of a blur,” she said with a wry smile. “I was mother and father and taxi driver and student.” She was also teaching in the Wabasso School District and going to classes to earn accreditation to teach learning disabled students. “We all worked together and worked it out. We had a lot of fun together,” Dorothy said. She continued to teach at Wabasso for 20 more years. “I got married again in the middle of all this,” she said. “I had been a widow for nine years and my youngest went off to college.” There was a memorial service held at the New Avon Methodist Church; one of the former church members who came back for the doings was Floyd Roush, a widower living in the Prinsburg area. Dorothy and Floyd were married in 1976. Floyd continued working for Duinnick Brothers in Prinsburg and the couple lived on Dorothy’s farm place. Dorothy noted that it is, indeed, a small world. When she lived in Morton, Dorothy attended the Morton Methodist Church and sat with Mrs. Roush – her husband’s cousin. (Floyd and his family had moved from Morton just before Dorothy arrived there to teach.) When she moved to Redwood Falls and began directing the choir at the Presbyterian Church, a woman inquired about her middle initial, “D,” and her last name. “She knew Reverend D.D. Mitchell – my father,” Dorothy said. Fast forward to 1967, just after the death of her first husband: Dorothy and her children were at Hoepner Funeral  Home in Redwood Falls, ready to greet those who were coming to pay their respects. “The first person to walk in the door was Carl Oja,” she said. Carl, his wife Carol, and their children had just relocated to Redwood Falls to begin manufacturing his invention – the quad (four-footed) cane. “When he was 16, Carl had moved from the Iron Range and boarded with our family friends so that he could attend St. Paul Central High School,” Dorothy related. “After Floyd and I were married and we would come to town, if I said I wanted to talk to Carl about something, Floyd would say, ‘you’ll talk ’til next Tuesday.’ So he would stay out in the car and take a nap. “No one else knew what it was like to grow up in the Twin Cities.” In 1986, Dorothy retired from teaching, Floyd had retired from Duinnick’s and they settled in to enjoy life on the farm. “My husband died in 1998 and I stayed on the farm,” Dorothy said, adding that she was never afraid to be alone there. “I had very wonderful neighbors across the road.” Nonetheless, by 2006 it was time to downsize and move into town. Dorothy became a resident of the Garnette Gardens senior community. “One of my neighbors at Garnette Gardens was a student of mine in Morton,” Dorothy said. “Then she got married and I got married and we lived across the fence line from each other.” It is a small world, after all.

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