~ A teacher forever remembered
By Betty Lou Gaeng – a grateful student
Every once in a while a certain person you meet during your lifetime inspires and influences you to such an extent, he or she is never forgotten. For me, it was Miss Shakespeare. Seventy-two years ago, at the age of 10, I entered her classroom at the old Edmonds Grade School. Miss Shakespeare was my fifth-grade homeroom and penmanship teacher. In the technological world of today, correct penmanship no longer seems important. Having earned three penmanship teaching certificates, Miss Shakespeare must have been appalled by this change.
When I was in her classroom, I didn’t realize, that Miss Shakespeare was teaching more than the proper writing technique. She instilled in me the concept that any chore tackled should be done to the best of my ability. Along with her regular lessons, her message was to do your best—if it is worth doing, do it right. Another truism I learned from Miss Shakespeare was that manners are important! I was small—she told me to always stand as if I was tall. I find I still do that.
Miss Shakespeare’s teachings have been a major influence in my daily life. Whenever I am working at some task, or have some decision to make, her words come to mind. My immediate thought is: Would Miss Shakespeare approve? I have often wondered, was it just me, or did she have this influence on the lives of others in her classroom. Robert Fulghum wrote that while he was in kindergarten, he learned all he needed to know. I learned some never-to-be-forgotten wisdom from Miss Shakespeare when I was in the fifth grade
Leaving elementary school behind, I lost contact with Miss Shakespeare. Decades later, no longer young myself, my husband and I stopped by the Edmonds Retirement Center to visit a friend residing there. As we walked down the hall, I glanced to my right; there on a door, a nameplate read, “Gwendolyn Shakespeare.” I just had to stop to see if she was home. The door was opened by a little elderly lady. I always remember her as tall. Now, Miss Shakespeare was no longer taller than I was. Well into her 80s, she was still slender and her posture erect. I recognized her immediately, and introduced myself. Just imagine, she remembered me!
My husband and I had a pleasant visit with her. She made a pot of tea and served some cookies, and we sat and talked a bit. She said to call her Gwen, but I just couldn’t. To me, she was, and always will be, Miss Shakespeare.
She was astounded when I told her the story of how her name and words have always remained with me. Miss Shakespeare’s eyes lit up—she seemed pleased. I am glad I had the chance to tell her before it was too late. Was I the only one ever to tell her that I thought she was a wonderful teacher? I hope not.
Gwendolyn Valentine Shakespeare was born on Valentine’s Day, February 14, 1907 in Everett, Washington. She attended kindergarten at the old Jefferson School in Everett. After graduation from Everett High School, she attended and graduated from Bellingham Normal School, where her father was on the Board of Trustees. She received her BA degree from the University of Washington.
Miss Shakespeare then taught three years at Lake Stevens, and received a life certificate in teaching. She took a one-year vacation from teaching and just stayed home. Missing the children, she then took a teaching position at the Edmonds Grade School. In 1950, she transferred to the Everett School District where she taught third grade at Jackson Elementary. She remained with the Everett School District until retirement in the mid-1970s.Besides her valuable teaching on behalf of the young people of Snohomish County, Gwen Shakespeare was an active participant in the entire education field. She served on the Snohomish County Board of Education for six years. She was a member of the Washington and National Education Associations. Miss Shakespeare was a charter and life member of Delta Chapter, Delta Kappa Gamma, the teachers’sorority, serving as chapter president and state recording secretary. She was a long time member of the Auxiliary of the American Legion, where she specialized in children’s welfare programs. Gwen Shakespeare was also active in the Everett community. She was a member of the Everett Ladies’ Musical Club and a founder of the Snohomish County Museum Association. In the mid-1960s, she was appointed to the Governor’s Council for Women in Civil Defense.
Gwen Shakespeare was a very busy lady, however she found time for various hobbies. One of her favorites was travel. She traveled throughout the United States several times, visiting 48 states. She also toured Mexico and Canada. During the summer of 1955, she sailed on the United Fruit Lines to Panama. In addition to all her other activities, Gwen Shakespeare enjoyed the outdoors and sports—playing golf and tennis. During her teaching career, she took part in the sports at school, such as hockey, track and basketball. During summer months, she often served as a camp counselor for children. It is very noticeable that children were her love.Her father was Noah Shakespeare. He was born March 15, 1877 in Brierley Hill, England. His parents were Enoch Shakespeare and Margaret Griffiths. He came to this country in 1895 and was naturalized in 1899. He was a member of the United Spanish War Veterans having fought in the Spanish-American War. He was also an officer during WWI. Mr. Shakespeare was an attorney in private practice, a Justice of the Peace, and elected as a municipal judge in Everett in 1907, he served in that position for 15 years. Noah Shakespeare died in Everett on January 12, 1952.
Her mother, Lulu Shakespeare, was born Louisa Julia Riemann on 14 January 1880 in Dubuque, Iowa, and died in Everett on November 28, 1970. Along with her husband, she was also a practicing attorney in Everett., having been admitted to the bar in the State of Washington in 1911.
Lulu Shakespeare was very active in the community and in 1949 received Everett’s “Woman of Achievement” award. Gwendolyn Shakespeare had four siblings. Her eldest brother was William Stratford Shakespeare. Three were younger: Doris Vivian Shakespeare did not live to see her fifth birthday; Robert Enoch Shakespeare; and Margaret Alice (Shakespeare) Black. Miss Shakespeare survived all of them.
For a few years, Gwen Shakespeare lived in Edmonds where she shared a home with her lifetime friend, Frances Anderson. However, her main home was the family one located at 3131 Rockefeller Avenue in Everett. This had been the Shakespeare home since 1912. Miss Shakespeare remained there until she moved to the Edmonds Retirement Center approximately 1982. She died in Everett on March 5, 2002, at age 95.
Although, Gwendolyn Valentine Shakespeare never had children of her own, her life was devoted to the children of Snohomish County and the entire state.
Everett Herald Obituaries, published January 14, 1952 and March 19, 2002.Washington State Digital Archives < http://digitalarchives.wa.gov/ >
Everett Herald newspaper for November 2, 1942 and March 24, 1958.U.S. Federal Census records for 1910, 1920 and 1930.
Whitfield, William (1926), History of Snohomish County, Washington Vol. II; Pioneer Historical Publishing Company: Chicago and Seattle.
Women in Public Life—Snohomish County, Washington. March 22, 1965, “Concern for Children Guides Career Activities of Miss Gwen Shakespeare” by Susan Heath. Collection of David Dilgard, Northwest Room, Everett Public Library
© 2009 Betty Lou Gaeng, All Rights Reserved; WLP Story # 59