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Teachers reunite after decades out of the classroom

Margaret Johnson, left, and Lorraine Wright share memories from their experiences as teachers nearly three-quarters of a century ago.

In the spring of 1941, Lorraine Wright and Margaret Johnson motored down from Bemidji Normal School to apply for elementary school teaching positions in Akeley, appearing before the school board.

 “They hired us that night. And we hadn’t even graduated yet,” Wright recalled.  Seventy-plus years after parting company - Wright joining the Navy Waves two years later - the school marms were reunited Thursday. This came at the orchestration of their former students, Ardith “Ardy” Anderson Vos and Joanne Ingman May, who were a year apart in school, but became lifelong friends.  

Vos’s father, school superintendent A. J. Anderson, hired the two educators.  Both 95, memories vibrant, the teachers reminisced with their students. Vos and May brought scrapbooks with messages penned by the teachers, Wright a first grade instructor, Johnson team-teaching third and half of fourth grade.  

“We double dated,” Johnson recalled.  “You were going with Freddie,” Wright said.  “He could dance. That’s what I liked about him,” Johnson said.  Upon arriving in the lakeside village, the teachers heard of a dance at the opera house.  “A group of us, you and I, went,” Johnson said. “We were new, young and pretty. We had a lot of dancing partners,” she said of the young fellows, who, if proven to be nimble on the dance floor, received the nod for a second waltz.  

A former Akeley superintendent, learning of the escapade, reprimanded them for their scandalous behavior.  But it didn’t deter them.  The teachers decided to host a private party, asking “Ma Regan” who had a small night club under the trestle bridge, if she’d host a dinner. They’d dance to the juke box.  

“Nobody turned us down,” John- said of the invitations.  After the gala, Fred Johnson asked Margaret if she’d like to go to the next basketball game.  “That was the beginning,” Johnson said of their 63-year marriage, the couple residing on 9th and 10th Crow Wing Lakes, Margaret teaching 34 years, “in between (four) children.”  

The school had just consolidated with some of the area’s rural schools, Johnson recalled of her initial classroom of 42 students.  “Akeley was a booming town,” Vos said.   “I taught music, phy ed, reading, writing, arithmetic and other subjects,” Johnson recalled. When the sixth grade teacher was asked to teach chorus in the middle school, he asked if she would include his students in her art instruction, the class size burgeoning to 60.  

“Nothing daunted me,” Johnson said, grinning. “I had the world by the tail. I loved teaching. I loved the kids. I was pleased. He was pleased. And the kids loved it.”  The students’ scrapbooks from the era reflect the teachers’ fondness for their young scholars.  “May you always be industrious, yet always be as fond of fun as you are now,” Wright wrote in May’s book.  

May recalls as a first grader attempting to sharpen a crayon in Wright’s pencil sharpener, receiving a reprimand. But it didn’t diminish affection.  Johnson expressed herself in poetry, Vos learning,  The world is just eager  For things you should create  Its store of true wealth is still meager  Its needs are incessant and great.  And May would ascertain,  It’s easy enough to be pleasant  When life flows along like a song  But the girl worthwhile  Is the girl who can smile  When everything goes dead wrong.

 “I’ve had a good life, good memories,” said Johnson, who retired in 1983. She still shops for groceries and makes her own breakfast, despite macular degeneration deteriorating her eyesight. Her days are brightened when she is visited by one of her pupils.  Johnson has been invited to speak at Akeley’s all school reunion this weekend.  “They asked me to say a few words. But I’m not a person of few words,” she said, chuckling.