WILMINGTON — Nearly 10,000 school board members, administrators, district staff, students and guests recently converged on the Columbus Convention Center to attend the Ohio School Boards Association Capital Conference and Trade Show. It’s the second-largest education convention in the nation.
Among the attendees was Wilmington’s Virgene Peterson, a special guest and award recipient honored for her contributions to education during the Ohio Educational Service Center Association Capital Conference Brunch where she received the “Outstanding Leadership Award” for Community Service.
It was 1943 when a young Miss Virgene Webb quietly began making her mark on public education in a small school in western Clinton County.
Enrolled in the teacher education program at Wilmington College during a time when there was a shortage of teachers, Miss Webb had only one year of training under her belt when she took advantage of an opportunity to begin teaching while still a teacher in training. She would go on to complete her college education in the evenings and on weekends in-between planning lessons and grading papers.
Miss Webb began teaching in the basement of Kingman School in Clarksville, which is now part of the Clinton-Massie School District in Chester Township. She still has that first Kingman grade book — and all the other grade books from her 50-year career teaching third, fourth and fifth grades at Kingman, Smith Place and Denver Place schools.
She also still has the kind smile, easy laugh, and deeply held belief that education can be fun. While Peterson’s once-tireless energy has slowed slightly as she deals with recent health issues, her enthusiasm for teaching has not once waned.
With 70 years of classroom experience, Mrs. Peterson, now 91, could very well be the longest-teaching educator in Ohio’s schools, and quite possibly nationwide. Peterson retired from teaching in 1993 but continued her career in education by serving as a substitute teacher for area school districts until 2013, when her path in education changed once again when she began volunteering at Denver Place Elementary School.
At a time when individuals hold an average of 11 jobs from ages 18 to 46, simply keeping the same job for 70 years is an unrivaled feat. Loving that job the entire time is rarer still.
Looking back over the years she spent in the classroom, Mrs. Peterson once commented, “Education is my life. It is the only thing I have ever known. I haven’t been out of the classroom since I entered the first grade in 1930.”
Mrs. Peterson has touched countless lives over the span of her career, instilling in her students the love of learning — the love of serving. It is a gift that seems to have been passed down to Mrs. Peterson’s daughter, Bunny Bradshaw, who retired from Clinton-Massie Local Schools in 2013 after teaching for 35 years, and to her grandson, Curt Bradshaw, who is in his seventh year of education currently serving the Southern Ohio Educational Service Center as the Coordinator of Gifted Services. The three generations have taught for a total of 112 years in Clinton County.
As Peterson’s grandson continues the legacy she began all those years ago, Bradshaw jokes that he may not make it to 70 years in education, but then again, he says, “I’m only 63 years away!”
According to Bradshaw, growing up and understanding the impact his mother and grandmother have had on countless children and their families in Clinton County, he has come to understand the value of serving the present and future communities through educating the youth.
“She has influenced the lives of thousands of students over the years, and while I was never a student in her classroom,” said Bradshaw, “I consider myself blessed to have been a ‘student’ of my grandmother’s teachings—lessons of servant leadership, goodwill towards others, and igniting a spark for lifelong learning in all children.”
Information for this article was provided by Diana Miller, who coordinates communications for several area schools.