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101-year-old teacher reflects on career at Charleston Schools kickoff event

By Will Simmons,


CHARLESTON, Ill. (WCIA) — How do you get hundreds of educators on their feet? Bring in 101-year-old Wanda Ruyle.

Charleston Schools needed a guest speaker for the opening of the district’s 75th year. The event was in the high school’s auditorium Wednesday morning, and administrators wanted to find a teacher who has been around since the start of the school district.

But it would be impossible to find someone who’d been teaching since the 40s. That’s what they thought, until they found Ruyle.

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“It made me start thinking back,” Ruyle said about the moment she was asked to speak at the event. “Picking out of my own life the things that I had done from the beginning as a teacher.”

Ruyle started her career at a rural one-room school. She got the job right after getting a teaching degree from Illinois State University.

She said the job also included scooping a path in the snow to the outdoor bathrooms, tending to the furnace and janitor work; all for $80 per month.

After that, she taught first grade at Jefferson Elementary School for 15 years before she went to Eastern Illinois University to prepare student teachers.

“I always wanted to be a teacher,” Ruyle said. “I really never thought about being anything else. Nothing appealed to me at all.”

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Ruyle has been involved with teaching in the community for 50 years. In that time, she’s met and influenced a lot of people, like Mary Bowers.

Bower is a teacher at Jefferson who learned from Ruyle at EIU. She was grateful for a chance to meet a person from her past who influenced her teaching career.

“The thing that Wanda did was she made sure she connected with her students, and she was all about relationships first,” Bower said.

Ruyle’s message on Wednesday reminded Bower why she keeps going in the profession.

“We have got to remember to look for those blessings and those things that bless us, and people like Wanda Ruyle,” Bower said.

A line of teachers waiting to talk to Ruyle is evidence of a life well-lived. Seeing the impact she’s had on the Charleston School District and knowing her love of teaching will continue to be felt.

“It makes me know my life has been worthwhile,” Ruyle said. “Life has been worth living. I’ve had a great life, I really have.”

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