Educators pay tribute to woman who spent her life teaching all she knew

March 20, 1994|By JoAnne C. Broadwater | JoAnne C. Broadwater,Special to The Sun

A group of Harford County educators gathered in Bel Air earlier this month to celebrate the life and accomplishments of a friend and colleague -- longtime Norrisville area resident, historian, writer and community volunteer Flora Hankins Wiley.

Mrs. Wiley, who died Dec. 5 at age 83, was remembered by fellow members of Delta Kappa Gamma honorary educational sorority as a dedicated teacher who understood young people and knew how to inspire and motivate them.

"She was a true teacher," said Violet Merryman, a retired elementary supervisor who served on the Harford County school board.

"She made such an impression on the students. I would challenge anyone to find someone she taught who didn't love her," she said.

"She was a person who had so many talents," added Mary Wright Barnes, a retired Churchville Elementary School teacher.

"She was a writer. She was an excellent speaker who had a way of holding her audience captive. She was very knowledgeable about local history. And she was talented in all kinds of crafts."

Mrs. Wiley was honored on March 7 in a memorial service at Ring Factory Elementary School by a local chapter of the sorority, which announced a $400 book grant to be given to a graduating senior high school student in her name.

During a teaching career of nearly 40 years, Mrs. Wiley became a familiar figure around the county. Trips to Bel Air from the family farm near Route 136 were interrupted by frequent stops to talk with students, her son, James Wiley, recalled.

"As an educator she never stopped wanting to reach the kids that others had problems reaching," Mr. Wiley said.

She taught several generations of elementary and high school students in Jarrettsville, Highland and Churchville, retiring from North Harford High School as an English language arts teacher in 1969.

"Harford County has lost one of its most prominent and treasured citizens," said Alden Halsey, retired deputy supervisor schools.

"Flora Wiley left great legacies among the people here, particularly the younger generations. She did a lot to sustain the traditions of the community," he said.

Born in Tazewell, Va., she came with her parents by train to live in northern Harford County when she was 8 years old. She fell in love with the area and never left.

"If Harford County had been in Virginia, it would have been perfect," Mr. Wiley said.

"She was always a Virginian and she appreciated Southern values," he said.

Residents of the Norrisville area remembered Mrs. Wiley recently for her sense of humor and her keen interest in preserving and passing along local history.

She wrote a history of the Norrisville United Methodist Church, where she was a member, and helped with fund-raisers by donating quilts and dolls that she had made.

"She could do anything she set her mind to," said the Rev. Donna Hennessey, the church pastor.

"She always said that she was bossy, but it was with a good humor and a smile and loving kindness behind it.

"When she died, the church was packed with several hundred people for the memorial service," the pastor said.

With her husband, Ross Wiley, an 83-year-old farmer, she researched and wrote about mills, schoolhouses, businesses and folklore of Norrisville.

She published a handful of books, including "Harford Ghosts, A Body Ought to Know About These Things," and a book for each of her son's three children, Beth, 19, Ted, 17, and Mary, 15.

Sharon Iannacone, who moved to the area in 1977 from Baltimore and served as president of the Norrisville Elementary School PTA, said, "She taught me a lot about the history of the land and passed on to me something about the spirit of the rural life here.

"She befriended me as a newcomer and helped me to make the transition from being a transplant to really belonging by passing on her stories," Mrs. Iannacone said.

After her retirement, Mrs. Wiley wrote several booklets for schoolchildren about what life was like in the early part of the century as well as important facts in Maryland's history.

She played a leading role in mobilizing the neighborhood to obtain a public library in the community.

She also gave history lectures at area schools and helped to present a program highlighting Norrisville's past and present.

And she was among a group of local women who stitched a quilt about Norrisville's history. The quilt hangs in the elementary school.

In recognition of her contributions to education, Norrisville Elementary School named her a life member of the PTA.

"This is the highest way a PTA can honor a citizen," Mrs. Iannacone said.

"She was so resourceful to the children in our community. She was a retired teacher who never stopped teaching."

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