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Remarks on a teaching legacy… An Ode to Ruth Uyesugi

The Paolite Staff asked our readers to write in their thoughts and feelings about the Ruth Uyesugi Dedication. Below are the responses we received. If you would like to add your own comment, please feel free to do so in the box below.

I grew up across the street from Mrs. U and her daughter Ann was a good friend. Mrs. U encouraged my song writing, poems, etc. She made me see my creative side and didn’t let me get away with feeling bad about myself. She was so much fun and listened to all my problems. She involved me in talent shows from the time I was 6 years old and up. Had me drawing props for plays, and so much more. She is the reason I love Falkner, Hemmingway, and all the old authors. Not only my neighbor, school teacher, Sunday school teacher, she was my mentor. I loved and will always love her. What a terrific woman!
Debbie (Wininger) Giles, class of 68

Roger and I have learned a lot from Mrs. U. Here are a few things…We learned to always carry two pencils. While I am no longer in the journalism field, I still carry this advice with we when going out to conduct case meetings in my current job. We learned to “speak up” while on stage. She taught us to not settle for almost reaching a goal. She taught us there were no bad Paolite jokes and to always “put them on the hook.” She taught us that our mistakes can always be forgiven. She guided us in our careers and in addition to that was the matchmaker who got us together.
Valerie and Roger Moon

This is tough for me.  As a senior in Mrs. U’s class I took for granted her genius. Looking back, I thought she was a little crazy.  She had a giant orange snake hanging from the ceiling named “Hester”, Japanese art and calligraphy hanging on the walls, stacks and stacks of papers on her desk, and she still managed to read and bleed all over my essays!  I often wondered if we were such a horrible writers why she always managed to smile and laugh in our class, she had very good sense of humor, especially with the Scarlet Letter.  That didn’t seem congruent with her serious level of expectation in the classroom.

As a teacher, coming back and sharing a classroom with Mrs. U was an honor.  As an adult and fellow teacher I had come to understand what a fantastic teacher she had been.  I aspired to be like her.  Keeping expectations high in my classroom, but making classic literature not only approachable, but also engaging to my students.  I enjoyed talking to her about various approaches to teaching concepts that were difficult for my kids, we shared ideas, tweaked them together, talked often about great books that we love.  Good ways to get kids to love books the way we do.  We even had differences of opinions on books, such as the Catcher in the Rye, which she quickly pointed out that I didn’t like because I didn’t “get it”.

One of the greatest privileges was being permitted to read books with her notes, as she is so willing to share her vast experience and knowledge with a former student, turned colleague.
Carol Fullington

In Sugi’s day as an educator, she set high standards for herself, had high expectations for her students, fought for the underdog, and extended generosity to a fault.  That day could have been 30 years ago or yesterday.  And will probably continue tomorrow.
Larry Hollan
Paolite Editor 1981

Thank you Mrs. U for teaching me the skills to test out college English at Purdue!
God Love You!
Sally P. Weeks-Stouse
Class of 1981

In 1987…after my FIRST teaching observation by Mr. Babcock (yes, the one with that yellow legal pad in his hands)…he said to me…”Aspire to be like Mrs. Uyesugi–she has command of her classroom and shares her knowledge passionately.”   Twenty-six years later… I am still trying.
Mrs. Rachel Wyatt

When I had Mrs. U for senior English (1980-81), she was super busy with her journalism classes. She told my classmates to “ask Becky” when they had papers to proof or questions about class. I blame her for my becoming an English teacher! 🙂
Rebecca Haley

I graduated from Paoli High School in 1988. My high-school experience was largely influenced and anchored around two amazing teachers—Tish Alder, on the south end of the school—who was my first real mentor in the arts—and Ruth Uyesugi, on the north end who helped me become a better writer and who also allowed me to have an outlet for my cartooning in The Paolite (occasionally, to her chagrin). I’d often make the trek between to the two ends of the school to discuss ideas for political cartoons, turn in drawings, or just drop in to give each of them a hard-time—in the most positive sense (or at least that was how I intended it).

A teacher is doing something right when she pulls the best out of her students, earns their respect and creates an environment where they where they want to be…even when they don’t have to be there. She did all of those things. She was able to balance being the Authority, the Mentor, the Teacher and Friend. She had a great sense of humor but wasn’t afraid to crack you on the head when you crossed the line. When I returned to visit PHS on occasion after graduation, she was one of the people I would always seek out to visit.

Ruth Uyesugi, or “Mrs. U” as she was more commonly known, is one of those handful of teachers who are fondly remembered decades later by their students. She, in her feisty, determined, yet endearing way, encapsulated many of the virtues that make a great teacher: dedication, love of her calling, patience (sometimes) with her students, humor, knowledge and the ability to inspire and motivate those around her to do their best. It is very fitting that she is honored her for her decades-long service to PHS, it students and the Paoli community.
Ray Rieck
Class of 1988

Ruth Uyesugi taught me journalism and English. I made a career out of journalism, and I discovered a lifetime passion for good literature. But probably the most important lesson Mrs. U taught me came when I represented her sophomore homeroom in the school’s spelling bee. (I realize how terribly quaint a spelling bee must sound to today’s students.) As a 15-year-old, I had just discovered that winning the classroom bee earned me much more than just a spot in the school wide contest; that honor came with a lot of teasing about being smart. So when my first turn came to spell at the convocation in the gym, I carefully, intentionally spelled “R-E-P-I-T-I-T-I-O-N,” and was out of the running. That would silence “the smart girl” remarks, I thought. But it didn’t silence Mrs. U, who had plenty to say about it. I don’t remember her exact words, but I have never forgotten that I let down my classmates, Mrs. U, and myself that day in the PHS gymnasium. But she wasn’t shaming me. She made me realize that each of us has talents and that we must honor and use those talents — whatever they may be — to the best of our abilities. That powerful life lesson has replayed in my conscience numerous times over the years. I suspect hundreds of others could recount similar lessons learned from our Mrs. U.
Nancy Davis Metz

Mrs. Uyesugi was my Senior Literature teacher. One six weeks she decided that we were going to do a “Senior Play”.  It was a play that she had written titled One More Song about a family doctor that spent much time at the office and seemed to care more about his patients than he did about his own family.  Mrs. U gave us a character list and told us to sign up for one.  Our entire grade that 6 weeks came from how we performed during the play.  Well, when I was in high school, I was terrified about getting up in front of people.(Believe it or not!)  I would get so nervous when I had to give speeches that my knees would be shaking.  So, I chose a low-key character with not many lines.  Mrs. U handed my character choice back to me and said, “Oh no, I want YOU in a major role.”  She assigned me the part of Nurse Barnaby–a very buxom, bossy sidekick to the doctor with many lines!  I mentioned how I am uncomfortable in front of people, but she said, “Acting is different and I already had this character picked out for you.  You can do it!!”  So, not being one to argue with my teachers, I swallowed hard and started memorizing lines.  She was right–it was easier to be in front of people when you were acting it out.  I did great, never missed a line, and got an A+ that grading period.  I am glad she made me take on the bigger role because it started the process of learning to get over my fear of speaking in front of people.  It doesn’t bother me now, and I am often asked to serve as liturgist or do a reading at my church because I’m told I have a good speaking voice.  Thanks, Mrs. U!  Love U!
Math Teacher Jackie Bosley

Mrs U was my journalism teacher.  I helped with both the Paolite high school newspaper and the Hillcrest yearbook.  Mrs U broke down all barriers of the student-teacher relationship to allow an environment of creativity.  Topics of discussion were always very open and she loved the opinions and observations of young people.  She could be very strict with her grading process but we always felt encouraged rather than criticized.  She knew how to get the best out of you!
Cyndi Ramsey Rowland
PHS class of 1974

I’ve loved and respected Mrs. U from the time I was a little girl. I grew up in the same neighborhood she lived in and was friends with her daughter Anne. We had some really fun slumber parties there. Mrs. U always seemed to welcome us with open arms even when we had a séance or used the Ouija board or “raised the card table” keeping everyone awake with our screams and talk. When we had practice at her house for “The Sedettes”, a singing group neighborhood friends formed, Mrs. U never batted an eye. We all just seemed to fit right in with the warm chaotic household!

One of my best friends from kindergarten through high school and beyond was her niece so I had another close tie to her. Mrs. U has been a wacky, witty, lovable and cherished part of my life. To say that she was my all time favorite teacher doesn’t even begin to say it all. To put into words how much she means to me cannot be done. She gave me a love of literature that exists to this day. I can’t imagine all the knowledge of that subject that is in her beautiful head. I’m lucky she shared it with me.

I was on the Paolite staff in high school and can’t express all the fun we had because of her sense of humor. It wasn’t all fun though-she taught us self-discipline and people skills that have helped me my entire life-even in my nursing career.

I was co-editor of the Hillcrest my senior year at Paoli High School so again, she was an important influence to me. She was “our boss” and boss she could! Always with her sweet smile and a will of steel! We worked long hard hectic hours on that yearbook but it was a labor of love for the book itself, our school, our town, and our beloved Mrs. U. It was 1966 and 1967 a time of “peace and love”, the Vietnam war and unrest and fear in students. Working on this project with Mrs. U kept things in perspective and order in our lives at a confusing time in our world. At school every day just being with her-we knew she loved us too and it was like having a safe haven in her room or after school working with her.

She has touched the lives of so many students who have gone on to many careers and I’ll bet they all have a story to tell. My story continues because as Paoli School Nurse for 26 years, she has remained in my life. I am so lucky to still get a hug from her when we see each other.

To name the new auditorium after her is an honor she certainly deserves. To have had her teach me many things is my honor.

You have been a shining light in my life Mrs. U and I love you!!

With gratitude,
Kristin Trinkle

3 comments on “Remarks on a teaching legacy… An Ode to Ruth Uyesugi

  1. I owe my entire journalistic teaching career to Ruthanna Farlow Uyesugi. I grew up with her in my life as a member of my church and as a mentor who helped get me started performing on stage at a very young age. I couldn’t wait to be a part of the Paolite staff in high school; it was a given that I would join the staff. Sugi’s manner of motivating us to achieve our highest potential gave me an example to follow when I started my own teaching career. Her ability to be a friend and a confidante, while still retaining her authority as a teacher, helped make her classroom my home-away-from-home. When I became co-editor of the Paolite my senior year, I moved a desk into her classroom and used it as my locker. My classmates and I helped contribute many of the artifacts that were still hanging in her room years later, and several boys in senior English had fun stealing pieces of the skeleton and hiding them for Sugi to try to find.

    As a senior, I won a national journalism writing award from the National Federation of Press Women for my editorial denouncing the Supreme Court’s Hazelwood decision that gave school administrators more freedom to censor student publications. Had I not been free to write about any subject I wanted under Sugi’s tutelage, I would not have been so passionate in my response to that court decision. She taught me to stick up for my rights, to never be afraid to be my unique self, and to never sell myself short.

    She used to yell at me in newspaper class for sitting around painting my nails when we were between deadlines, and the other day I found myself yelling at three of my yearbook girls for doing the same thing (except they were doing it while we were on deadline). I had to stop and laugh, as I could hear U’s voice in my head. Another great story from my senior year involved her throwing erasers at me as I ducked under a table in her room, and the new juniors on Paolite staff looked on in horror. Jennifer Babcock, co-editor of the paper with me, and I had spent all day in the darkroom trying to make a girls basketball photo come out just a little better. Sugi had pulled us out of almost every other class to keep working on the photo. Unfortunately, the photographer had not done a great job with the settings on the camera, and the lighting was not good. We simply could do no more to make the photo clearer, and after consulting with photo expert Janet Perry, we decided we had done all we could; Mrs. U. was not happy about that. During newspaper class at the end of the day, Janet stuck her head in Sugi’s room to ask a question, and Sugi (unwilling to believe we had already consulted Janet) said to her, “Can you help them make that picture look better?” Janet replied, “I already helped them earlier today. It’s as good as it’s going to get.” Well….I looked up from the table where Gary Spear and I were going over a story and said, “I told you so!” A split second later, the erasers started flying at my head, while she yelled, “Don’t you tell me ‘I told you so.’ I’ll tell you who told you so.” Gary and I hid under the table and convulsed in laughter. Jennifer was across the room doubled over laughing, but all the new Paolite staffers stopped in their tracks, afraid to move. They didn’t know Sugi well enough yet to know whether they should laugh or be afraid.

    I spent hours at her house editing the paper or just hanging out to talk. Her door was, and is, always open. I’m blessed to call her a mentor and a friend. She deserves every accolade that comes her way.

  2. I have always loved to write. When my family moved to Paoli in 1987, where I was to start high school, my mother told me that PHS had a newspaper called The Paolite, and that the teacher in charge of it, Mrs. Uyesugi, had been one of her own high school teachers. I was so excited! During the first week of class my freshman year, I marched down to Mrs. U’s classroom, introduced myself, and asked whether I could take her journalism class. She told me that unfortunately, the staff of The Paolite was always comprised of only juniors, plus two seniors who served as the Editor-in-Chief and Managing Editor. I had to wait two years until I could write for the paper…two long years of eager anticipation, of wondering about the eclectic décor in Mrs. U’s classroom and hearing bits of glowing praise of her from older students.

    When I was finally given the privilege of sitting in her classroom, though, I quickly forgot that there was a giant orange snake suspended from the ceiling, a stuffed armadillo on the shelf in the corner, and a few tall, metal spikes on the front desk on which stacks of students’ written assignments were impaled. Mrs. U, sitting cross-legged on a stool on one side of the classroom and talking about how to write a newspaper story, easily held my attention and that of every other student in the room. It was the first time I had heard her teach, and she went about it in a way that was different than any other teacher I’d ever had.

    Her thoughtful, conversational style combined gentle humor and a quick wit with years and years of knowledge and experience. She was able to help teenagers understand and appreciate literature. More than that, she somehow inspired us want to understand and appreciate what we were reading. Now, more than twenty years after I first sat in her classroom, I am still amazed by Sugi’s ability to relate so well to her students. With her unassuming, nonjudgmental way, it was almost as if she was one of us. She was, and still is, timeless.

    What impressed me most of all about Sugi, though, was that she was the first person I’d ever met who had written a book. She was an author, something that I one day hoped to become. I read her beautiful autobiographical novel, Don’t Cry Chiisai, Don’t Cry, for the first time that year. Learning about her early life and her struggle to marry and raise a family in an era of intense racial prejudice further reinforced for me what an extraordinary person she was.

    I continued to get to know Sugi during my senior year at PHS, when she was my teacher for college-credit English. We also spent long hours after school working on The Paolite. After I left for college, Sugi and I kept in close touch. We usually talked on the phone every week or two, and I saw her almost every time I came home for a visit. Even though I started college with the intention of becoming a doctor, our conversations tended to focus mostly on writing and literature. I’d tell her what I was reading in my humanities classes, and she’d share with me the poetry she’d most recently asked her class to interpret. When I finally followed my heart and changed my major from biology to English a few years later, I don’t think she was very surprised.

    Today, Sugi and I still keep in touch. I love her dearly and consider her to be one of my closest friends. She was one of my “test readers” for my first novel, The Mill River Recluse, which went on to appear on the New York Times bestseller list for 28 weeks and will be published in six foreign countries. There is a dedication to Sugi printed at the front of the book. Quite simply, without having had her as a teacher, role model, and friend, and without her support and encouragement as I attempted to follow in her footsteps, I do not think I would have found success as a writer.

    I am but one of thousands of people whose lives have been touched and enriched by Ruth Uyesugi. Her influence on PHS and the entire community of Paoli has been profound. Naming the school’s new auditorium in her honor is a fitting tribute to all that she has given and continues to give.

    Darcie Chan
    Paolite Editor 1991

  3. Jessica Lindley Amick

    I spent many a lunch hour with Mrs. U in her classroom. We would work on the Paolite and I would talk with her about high school problems and she would always give me advice. There always seemed to be tuna salad sandwiches for lunch and when the cafeteria would run out she would throw her keys at me and say, “Go to my house and get the tuna salad out of the fridge. Watch out for the cat as he might attack you when you open the door.”

    She was an excellent teacher and taught me to have a critical eye when it came to writing and editing. She liked it when we took risks with our writing and she opened my eyes to authors and novels I would have never read otherwise. She treated her students like adults yet knew we were still kids trying to find our place in the world. I took her grammar bible to college and used it on every paper I wrote. This was before spell check, grammar check and google so all of my papers had to be researched, fact-checked, and edited the “old fashioned” way and then typed on a word processor. She demanded excellence and my goal was to just have one paper come back without any red ink on it (that never happened). All I wanted was to hear her say, “Good job, kid.”, and when she did it was worth all the hard work.

    I’m so happy she is receiving the honor of having the new auditorium named for her. I hope one day my children are lucky enough to have a teacher in their lives like Mrs. U.

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