A retirement reflection

Left, Barb; bottom, at the Brunner Literacy Center on Salem Ave; contributed photos.

Barb Maloney recently retired from Brunner Literacy Center after seven years of service. She began as a volunteer tutor when the center opened in 2011 and also served as program manager and site coordinator. Brunner Literacy Center was founded by Sisters Maryann Bremke and Helen Weber and provides literacy tutoring and GED preparation.

Maloney continues to serve as a volunteer tutor and said that sometimes her volunteer hours exceed the hours she was working. “The Sisters have taught me well,” she said. “We may retire from being paid for our work, but we never discontinue our service to those who live on the margins of society.”

I was blessed with parents who believed in the value of an education. Mom and Dad sent my siblings and me to St. Joseph School in Wapakoneta, Ohio, their alma mater. It wasn’t easy for them to send all of their 19 children through Catholic school, but they managed to do just that. They sacrificed common luxuries to do what was necessary to raise a large family while never wavering on their commitment to help us realize our educational dreams.

My earliest recollections date back to sitting on Dad’s lap while he read us Bible stories and rocking with Mom as she recited Mother Goose rhymes. As a young family we learned numbers by playing Steal-the-Pile and Seven-up. When we were 5, we learned strategy through playing a watered-down version of chess with Dad. In our primary school years, we learned all about the art of gardening long before science was introduced as a required school curriculum. During the evening meal we learned civics as Mom and Dad argued the merits of their respective political parties: Mom, Republican; Dad, Democrat. By 10, Mom taught each of us how to follow a recipe so we had the pleasure of putting a meal on the table. As soon as we made our first dollar working outside the home, they no longer gave us our weekly allowance of 35 cents. With regular money coming in, they expected us to give weekly to the church, put money in the bank, and buy our own candy at Murphy’s Five and Dime.

Ah! What valuable lessons! Is it any wonder that in our free time we played church, school and army? And being the fourth oldest, I had the fortune of watching my younger brothers and sisters as the three oldest had more household and yard chores to attend. That’s when the role of teacher took hold of me from the outside-in. I went from teaching my younger brothers and sisters and the neighborhood kids in Dad’s garage to teaching in Catholic schools for 41 years. When Sisters Maryann Bremke and Helen Weber opened the Brunner Literacy Center in 2011, I began my adult tutoring and program manager career. During these last two years and four months I was the site coordinator at the Day Reporting Center for the BLC. Full circle from those early days!

I have been blessed with a rich educational history and a vibrant faith, and I credit my parents and the Sisters of the Precious Blood for endowing me with the gift of teaching and believing. They have modeled with their lives the adage that to those who have been given much, much is required. I do what I do to honor those who have given so much to me.

Our mission at the BLC is to serve those who have been less fortunate when it comes to education. These are the folks with whom we share the good news of reading, writing, math, civics and science. Their stories are far different from mine, and it saddens me to hear their struggles while growing up. These struggles spilled over into their school experience, and their dreams were snuffed out at a young age. What we offer is a chance to dream again. And, that is what we see in their eyes when they successfully finish a textbook on adding and subtracting fractions or laughing while reading Dr. Seuss. And when they reach their final goal (no matter if it is to read, gain citizenship, land a job or earn a GED), the tears in their eyes tell a new story. ‘Someone believed in me and cared enough that I can now believe in myself.’

Helping a person achieve what was long forgotten or deemed impossible is the best gift we can give.

At the close of tutoring this past week, a successful week for students reaching milestones, I was reminded by my team of the joy that comes our way when students succeed. We’d like to think our motives are purely noble, but in all honesty, we gain as much, if not more, from these adult learners. Their determination empowers us to stay the course and not give up. I have received so much more from them than what I have given. For that, I am eternally thankful.

So yes, I retired at the end of 2018 from the Brunner Literacy Center as site coordinator for the DRC, but I will never retire from tutoring. I am looking forward to no more meetings … just tutoring, just tutoring. And yes, maybe more time with my grandsons so I can teach them how to play Steal-the-Pile and read Mother Goose rhymes.

Story originally published online at www.brunnerliteracy.org/blog. Reprinted with permission.

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