After a 56-year career spanning two centuries, seven decades and two retirements, it seemed like a fitting sendoff for Rose Kelly to receive a R.O.S.E (Recognizing Outstanding Support of Education) Award and a bouquet of red roses.
Kelly was congratulated for her long service to USD 428 by Board of Education President Kevin Mauler during at a recent back-to-school breakfast for teachers. The longtime English teacher, who also taught history, was employed as a classroom teacher from 1958 until her retirement in 1994. She then remained with the district for another 20 years as a substitute teacher and just last May decided to retire for good.
Interestingly, Kelly started with the district in March of 1958 as a substitute teacher. She subbed for two days and then was offered a job to complete the school year at the newly opened Roosevelt Junior High School. (The building had previously been the high school.) The offer was under less-than-stellar circumstances since she would be the fourth teacher hired that year to teach a single group of eighth and ninth graders. She stayed there until 1992 when RJH was combined with Harrison Junior High to become Great Bend Middle School.
“I was the first and last teacher at Roosevelt Junior High,” Kelly said.
During her second year of teaching, she became pregnant with her daughter, Debbie.
“Back then, you couldn’t teach after your fifth month,” she recalled. Her superintendent, Dan Swartz, told her she could continue teaching until someone complained.
“I taught until December and Debbie was born in January. Three weeks later I returned to school,” she said, noting that there was no such thing as maternity leave.
Her first contract was for $3,500 a year ($390 a month), significantly less than the $460 paid to male teachers. However, within two years, men and women were paid the same amount.
Kelly could write a book about her experiences with all the wonderful teachers and students with whom she has worked. One outstanding memory is the day that President John F. Kennedy was assassinated.
“We told the kids at an assembly at the end of a band concert. More than 500 kids left the auditorium without making a sound,” she recalled. “I was so proud of those kids.”
One thing that has served Kelly well is her no-nonsense approach to discipline.
“I know they always called me ‘old lady Kelly,” she laughs, realizing that even 28 was old to her students. “To get respect, you have to command respect. I have always insisted that the students respect me. They don’t have to like me.”
Even so, she is pleased by the number of former students – now old ladies and gents themselves – who tell her she was their favorite teacher. Many of the kids she has taught as a substitute teacher tell her how much they appreciated her ability to maintain control in a classroom and get down to the business of teaching.
This year is the first time in more than seven decades that Kelly was not in attendance on the first day of school.
“I feel some sadness, but I have lots that I want to do,” the octogenarian said about closing the book on her career as an educator.
However, she still remembers being three years old and visiting a school for the first time.
“I loved the smell of books and told everyone, ‘I want to be a teacher,’” she said.
And so she was.