CLARION | As a Depression-era teenager, when Gladys Woodley decided to become a teacher her reasoning was simple: it was her best shot at getting a job.

In 1930, with her parents like other families struggling financially on their farm, a salary of $75 per month — with a promised raise that never materialized — was a welcome addition.

Looking back, her six-year career as a one-room school teacher was marked by some hardships — no indoor plumbing, heating via a potbelly stove and a gravel road that led up to her first schoolhouse.

“We were so used to it, we took it for granted,” she said.

More than 80 years after her career began at Grant No 4., a one-room schoolhouse a few miles north of Clarion, her kind manner and patience are remembered by former students.

Now 103, Woodley was honored last month by the Heartland Museum with a ceremony to mark her as one of the state's oldest living former one-room country school teachers.

But, it was a career she could not start right away. Although she studied toward becoming a teacher in high school, she was too young to start when she graduated at 17.

The state required new teachers to be at least 18.

Today, two of her former students are still living — Joyce Griffith, 89, and Raynard Southard, 90.

At age 5, Griffith was one of her first students. She remembers Woodley's warmth and laugh that inspired her to become an elementary teacher herself.

Griffith went on to teach elementary school in Goldfield, then Clarion for 26 years.

“She was caring and patient,” Griffith said about Woodley. “Just a person you would want to be like.”

Griffith said the community around the school was often tight-knit. Woodley, whose parents lived about 6 miles from the school, would often stay with Griffith’s family during winters. For Woodley, it was often difficult to make the trek in the snow with a team of horses.

Griffith's father often would go to the school early to start the fire in the building's potbelly stove on frigid mornings, she said.

Woodley eventually moved to Grant No. 1 in Wright County. She left teaching in 1936, just after she married her late husband, Laurence, and settled on their farm.

Today, although now losing vision, she still sticks to a weekly routine of coffee with friends at Hardee's and attending services at the Clarion Church of Christ.

“She hasn’t just sat down and given up,” said Pastor Warren Curry. “She’s just on the go and keeps going.”

Woodley says her longevity is due to a lifetime of hard work and a deep belief in God.

“I enjoyed it,” she said of her early career. “I have wonderful memories.”


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