Delaware resident Lois Smith received a unique gift from two of her former students shortly before she died.
Sisters Robin McNeal and Bethany (McNeal) Baldwin wrote and dedicated a children’s book to Smith, based on their experiences with her as their third grade teacher at Conger Elementary School about 25 years ago.
The book, “Ice Cream is Better Than Hitting,” available on Amazon, is one in a series designed to help children with behavioral and developmental needs.
Smith, 84, passed away Monday, May 22, at her Willow Brook Home. The former students had met with Smith a couple of weeks earlier to present her the book.
“My mom was just honored beyond belief,” her son, Barry Smith, said this week.
“She was thrilled they accomplished the writing of the book and that she was featured in it and that she inspired them so much,” said Smith, who resides in California.
McNeal recently earned her Master’s of Science degree in Applied Developmental Psychology from the University of Pittsburgh. While working with a wide population of women and children experiencing abuse and neglect, she recognized the positive impact of teaching methods used by Mrs. Smith, and began work on books that would have effective, yet fun, goals for at-risk children to understand and attain.
Baldwin has a Bachelor’s of Art Degree in Fine Arts from the Columbus College of Art and Design, and is owner of Artful Interiors, LLC. Two of their five children are adopted, and she hopes to be a catalyst for foster care reform, post-adoptive support, and funding for children’s mental health programs.
Both women have other fond memories of Mrs. Smith’s classroom, including hatching baby chicks, seeing the morning messages from “Herman” (a chalk-drawn rabbit on the chalkboard), class contests to learn multiplication tables, and going to Dari Point for ice cream when specific goals were met.
They met with their former teacher May 3 at her home at Willow Brook Christian Village, presenting her with the first printed copy of their book, thanking her for her positive investment in their lives.
“I called her and said we wanted to visit and dedicate the book to her. She was thrilled,” McNeal said.
“She hadn’t change at all; still so humble. She got so much joy out of being a teacher. Mrs. Smith always went the extra mile to make her kids feel special and rewarded. She had such an impact on us that my sister asked her to present her with her diploma at graduation.”
Lois was born to be an educator. In 1984, she was named Teacher of the Year in the Delaware City Schools.
“She truly cared about her students and their families,” recalled her daughter, Melody Sweet, who lives in Oregon.
“She was creative and she engaged the kids in her classes,” Melody said.
If she had a child with behavioral issues in her class she would devise a special plan for them, Melody said. “She would attempt to change the behavior.”
Lois enjoyed a 30-year career in Delaware County, teaching one year of home economics at Willis High School and three years of elementary school at Brown School in the Buckeye Valley School District, before settling in at Conger in 1968.
She taught third, fourth and fifth grades over the next 26 years at Conger, with all her classes traditionally learning the Ohio State University fight song on the first day of school, sending letters of support to the Buckeye football team during “Beat Michigan Week” and producing and performing a school play.
Melody said her mom often took students on field trips, including a visit to Ohio Wesleyan University to listen to the symphony orchestra.
“She loved seeing their faces light up. That child will remember that experience beyond the third or fourth grade,” she said. “We often accompanied them on outings and our lives were enhanced by our interaction with Mrs. Smith’s classes.”
Editor Anthony Conchel can be reached at 740-413-0900.