BLANCHARD — When Genelle Richey first stepped into an Oklahoma classroom to teach, Harry Truman was in the White House, still grinning over his surprise re-election. Elvis Presley was 15, learning guitar licks from a neighbor in Memphis. Ethel Merman was about to star on Broadway in “Call Me Madam,” portraying a character based loosely on Oklahoma native Perle Mesta, then U.S. ambassador to Luxembourg.
That was the fall of 1950. Today, Richey, 82, is still teaching, continuing a career that has spanned the administrations of 12 U.S. presidents.
Richey teaches honors English composition at Blanchard High School, where she has taught for all except six years of a career in its 62nd year. She has taught children of her former students and is now teaching some of their grandchildren. Her own grandson is a Blanchard sophomore.
Several former students have become teachers themselves.
“I guess when I start teaching great-grandchildren, maybe it'll be time to quit,” she said. This year, 58 seniors are enrolled in her three classes.
“I'm taking it a year at a time,” she said. “If I feel good, I'll keep going.”
Richey was hired as an elementary teacher at Middleberg School while still in college. She earned a bachelor's degree from Oklahoma College for Women in Chickasha and after six years at Middleberg, moved to Blanchard — where she graduated in 1948 — to teach high school English.
“It took me five years to finish college, but I taught three of those years,” she said. Back then, teachers could start working before finishing their degrees.
She had planned to retire 20 years ago, but her principal at the time, Glen Castle, asked her to continue teaching senior English instead of retiring completely.
“I wasn't sick and felt good, so I thought, ‘I can do three hours,' ” she said.
“I'm 82, but I don't feel it. My students ask me how old I am, and I just tell them I'm 100.”
Greg Jackson, Richey's current principal, said she is welcome to continue teaching as long as she is feeling good and enjoys what she's doing.
“She's a tradition,” Jackson said, “just a classy lady. The students respect her, and the parents respect her.”
Richey, Jackson said, “lets them know how important writing is.”
A focus on writing
Richey describes herself as “an old-fashioned teacher.”
She tells students on the first day that what matters in her class is “tone of voice, and don't ask me why.”
Janeen Heller, the junior and senior counselor, graduated from Blanchard in 1980 and was in one of Richey's classes. She said students clamor to study with Richey.