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LINDA ABEL - Loss of a legendary teacher

By JUDY SCHLESSELMAN

Belle Plaine lost a legend this month with the death of Linda Abel.

The woman who guided junior high students through the wonders of literature and the minefields of grammar for 40 years left us far too soon on May 13, the victim of a cancer diagnosed less than two months earlier.

The day after her death, our editor asked me to write a guest column about Miss Abel, as she was respectfully addressed by students and adults alike. He knew it would be a tough assignment since she and I were close friends for 36 years. I swallowed hard and said I would, thinking maybe in a few weeks or months.

But I think I can do it now. The show of love, respect and sympathy extended to her family by hundreds who came to the visitation and funeral have encouraged me not to wait.

A time of sharing was held after the visitation. For at least an hour, family and friends stepped forward to share their memories.

Nieces and nephews, now grown with children of their own, reminisced about coming for weeklong summer visits when they were just kids. They recalled the snappy 1971 gold Camaro Linda drove for years. Not many knew that she got that car up to 140 mph on Highway 30 once after her young nephew asked how fast it could go. “Don’t tell anybody,” she admonished him. Many of us were surprised about that one. It just didn’t seem to fit the “English teacher” image we had of her.

Over and over folks spoke of Linda’s dedication to her students – how she was the first teacher at school in the morning and the last to leave at night. She came in early so young athletes could get their work done and still make practice after school. She stayed late to help any student who struggled with her classes.

I taught with Linda for seven years, and not once did I see her ever give up on any of them. If they were willing to try, she was by their side encouraging them to be the very best they could be. If they weren’t willing to try, she worked with them until they were. Linda had a heart for kids and they knew it. She earned their respect and they became putty in her hands.

Don’t get me wrong. She was a demanding and particular teacher. She was also fair and expected students to keep up their end of the bargain.

But when she had to have a one-on-one teacher talk to get them to see things her way, or to point out the error of their ways, Linda usually ended by saying she wasn’t mad at them – and that was the end of that and all was forgiven.

I interviewed Linda in 2002 for a story about Belle Plaine’s longest tenured teachers. She told me people would sometimes say that junior high is a hard age to teach. “I tell them it’s the best age to teach,” she would answer. “I wouldn’t trade them for anything.”

Belle Plaine honored Linda as July 4 parade marshal in 2006, the year she retired. She told me at the time she was a little reluctant to accept. Putting herself in the spotlight was definitely not her style. But she didn’t want to slight the people of Belle Plaine, so Linda agreed. And she had a great time.

While saying good bye is never easy, those of us who knew and were touched by Linda Abel have warm memories of a caring and dedicated teacher, a compassionate friend who loved unconditionally and a quiet leader who led by example.

Someone once remarked about her, “I wonder if she knows how many people love her?”

I think she did. I know I did.

So we must say good-bye for now and hold fast to the memories of a life well lived in service to others.

Thanks for everything, Miss Abel. You will never be forgotten.

UPDATED May 27, 2009 9:01 AM

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