Ten-year-old Ronald Graves walked into Room 204 at Rankin Elementary School 62 years ago, without a clue that the rookie teacher at the head of his fourth-grade class would change his life.
“I was a shy kid who just wanted to sit there and absorb, but you marked my life because you made us get up and do stuff. I started developing confidence in myself. You were that social studies teacher who made things interesting and helped me develop an interest in history and travel,” Graves, 72, told his former teacher, Ruth Ann Struglinski, during a reunion this week at her Akron home.
The meeting was the culmination of Graves’ 23-year search for Struglinski, who was Miss Ruth Ann Zendlow when she taught him. Graves was one of 40 students in Struglinski’s first class, after earning her teaching degree in 1953 at the University of Akron.
“I am so humbled to know that as a first-year teacher I made such an impression on one of my students, and I am amazed that he remembered me after all of these years,” said Struglinski, 84. “I’m just overwhelmed when I think about how he sought me out to thank me for being an inspiration.”
Graves, who now lives in Ashland, said memories of his fourth-grade teacher rushed to the forefront of his mind while he was pursuing a second graduate degree in counseling at Kent State University in the early 1990s. The recollection came after his professor noted that more than half of educators either taught their favorite grade in school or their favorite subject.
“I quickly recalled that my favorite teacher taught grade four and that my favorite studies were in the social studies area,” Graves said. “I initially was perplexed because I had taught sixth grade for 10 years, but I realized the thought of teaching fourth grade was also in my mind. And I remembered that I had been awarded six social science college credits as the result of a college entrance placement test.”
After completing his graduate studies in 1993, Graves was compelled to find his fourth-grade teacher to thank her for her positive influence on his life, including the inspiration to become a teacher. When his 20-plus year search came up empty, he began to think that he should just give up.
Then Graves, an Akron native, was reading the Akron Beacon Journal and came across an obituary with the name Zendlow.
“I had been spelling it without the ‘D,’ so I started some research online with the new, correct spelling,” Graves said. “After concluding that I had located my fourth-grade teacher, I decided to write her a letter. I felt a little squeamish about sending it because I thought I might have the wrong person. I had no idea what was going to happen.”
Deciding to meet
After receiving the letter last month, Struglinski contacted Graves to confirm that she was, indeed, Miss Zendlow, his fourth-grade teacher.
“I was so surprised that he would remember a teacher from that long ago,” Struglinski said. “We chatted and decided we would like to get together.”
On Wednesday, Graves and his wife of 44 years, Bonnie, arrived at Struglinski’s door with a bright, fresh flower bouquet.
During their visit they reminisced about the past and Struglinski shared her class album of Room 204 during the 1953-1954 school year. The album included a photo of Graves performing in a play about ancient Egypt.
“I think this is wonderful. I can’t imagine that many students and teachers get a chance to experience something like this,” said Bonnie Graves, who teaches Latin at Ashland High School. “She really made a difference in his life and he is so thankful for her.”
After graduating from Buchtel High School, Graves earned an undergraduate degree in elementary education at Malone University and taught sixth grade for 10 years at Chapel Hill Christian School in Cuyahoga Falls. He also served as director of Christian education for 10 years at Stow Alliance Fellowship. He earned two graduate degrees in counseling at Kent State and Ashland universities and has done Christian counseling for more than 25 years.
“I am grateful for God’s blessings upon my life, my faith in Jesus Christ as Savior and for those who have marked my life, including my fourth-grade teacher, Miss Ruth Ann Zendlow,” Graves said.
Struglinski taught at Rankin Elementary for three years before leaving to start her family. She and her late husband, Leonard, have three children and six grandchildren. After spending 13 years working in her home, Struglinski returned to the classroom in 1970 to teach in the Revere Local School District, where she instituted a Pioneer Day program designed to bring Ohio history alive.
After retiring in 1991, Struglinski supervised student teachers for Kent State University. She went back to (the now closed) Rankin after her husband died in 2004, to volunteer as a tutor.
“I got a chance to look at Room 204, which was being used for storage, and I couldn’t believe that I had 40 students in that room,” said Struglinski, who volunteers at her church, St. Sebastian, Christ Child Society and the Peter Maurin Center.
“Teaching has been my passion. It’s so exciting when I run into a parent or former student and they fill me in on what they’re doing,” Struglinski said. “Reuniting with Ron is very special. It’s so rewarding to know that I have had a positive influence on him.”
Colette Jenkins can be reached at 330-996-3731 or firstname.lastname@example.org. She can be followed at www.twitter.com/ColetteMJenkins.