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Column: My Adopted Grandparent

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VanDyke found a way to ‘connect’ with many people in her life

By Stevie Lowery

Surely, two of the most satisfying experiences in life must be those of being a grandchild or a grandparent.” 

- Donald A. Norberg 

 

Some of my fondest childhood memories involve my grandparents.

Driving the golf cart or playing dentist with my Grandpa John...

Playing games in the backseat of the car with my Grandmother “Dot”...

Rooting through Grandma Liz’s purse for candy...

Listening to Grandpa Beryl tell stories (really long stories)...

My twin sister and I had incredible grandparents. But, unfortunately, they lived far away - Michigan and Illinois - and we didn’t get to see them as often as we wanted. So, on Grandparent’s Day in elementary school, we had the privilege of adopting a grandparent. Judy Gaddie, who was principal of St. Charles Elementary School at the time, wanted to make sure every child at the school had a grandparent to eat lunch with during Grandparent’s Day, and so she paired my twin sister and me up with Ms. Lucille VanDyke of Bradfordsville. Ms. VanDyke was a close friend with Gaddie’s mother and she knew her well. She thought we would make a good match. And, we did.

“I assigned the two of you all to her because I knew she would enjoy you all so much,” Gaddie said.

I can remember meeting Ms. VanDyke in the lobby at St. Charles Elementary School. She was a very small, petite woman with pretty white hair. She reminded me of my grandmother Dot - very classy, dainty and proper. My twin sister and I hit it off with her, and apparently the feeling was mutual.

“She described you all as bubbly, bouncy, delightful children,” Gaddie said. “She really, really connected with you all.”

Ms. VanDyke became our official adopted grandparent during our time at St. Charles Elementary School. I remember during one of her visits she brought us special four leaf clover pins to wear on St. Patrick’s Day. I remember feeling very special that day. In fact, every time Ms. VanDyke visited us at school I can remember feeling special. I hope we made her feel just the same.

Unfortunately, as we grew up, we lost touch with Ms. VanDyke. I wish I had stayed in touch with her, and I was reminded of that last week when I heard that she had passed away. She was 95 years old.

After hearing of her death, I immediately called Ms. Gaddie. I felt so guilty for not having kept in contact with Ms. VanDyke.

“She reminisced many, many times about her experiences as an adopted grandparent,” she told me.

And, it turns out there was so much about Ms. VanDyke that I didn’t know. I knew that she had never married and that she had a small family - only one brother. But, I was surprised to learn that Ms. VanDyke had taught on American Army bases for the federal government, and she had traveled extensively.

“She taught many Army Generals,” Ms. Gaddie told me during our phone call last week. “She had students that went on to excel in the armed forces. She was always very proud of that.”

After talking with Ms. Gaddie, I called Ms. VanDyke’s sister-in-law, Geneva VanDyke, in Bradfordsville to offer my condolences. She said she remembered Lucille talking about “the twins.” She also said that many of Ms. VanDyke’s former students had written messages on her guestbook on Campbell-Dewitt’s web page. So, out of curiosity, I went to her guestbook and found pages and pages of comments from many of Ms. VanDyke’s former students and colleagues. Below are a few of my favorites.

 

What a wonderful, dignified and articulate woman. It was a pleasure and an honor to have been one of her students. May she meet all those souls that were her passion in history lessons! She taught me well. - Kelley Moran Ragsdale 

 

Few teachers leave a more vivid impression than Miss Van Dyke. Even fewer touch as many young lives with such dedication. Thank you, Miss Van Dyke. - Gaylin Gates 

 

Miss VanDyke was one classy teacher. She was a wonderful role model particularly for the girls in her classes. Her clothes and shoes were always beautiful and perfect. She was confident, knowledgeable, and had high expectations for her students, and we gave her our best. Even though Miss Van Dyke had no children of her own, she had thousands that thought as much of her as they did of their own mothers. Rest in peace Miss Van Dyke - you left a lasting legacy! - Joyce Edwards Marshall 

 

It’s no surprise to me that Ms. VanDyke touched so many lives. As my sister and I witnessed, Ms. VanDyke loved children. And she loved to see children learn. While I didn’t have the pleasure of having Ms. VanDyke for a history teacher, she did teach me a lifelong lesson. She taught me that one person can have a tremendous impact on the lives of others.

It saddens me that Ms. VanDyke never experienced the joy of having children of her own, but it seems obvious that her children were, in fact, her students. I’m just thrilled that my twin sister and I were able to give her the delight of being a grandmother.

 But, I can assure you, the pleasure was all ours.