MRS. GLADYS RIFE
By John Rife, Class of 1960
This is an article about a woman who taught in MVHS in the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s. She was known as Mrs. Rife, Gladys, Dr. Rife and Babe’s wife but to me and my siblings (all MVHS grads, Jeanne ‘59, me ‘60, Joyce ‘62, Jim ‘65 and Roger ‘67’ she was just mom except when she was our teacher and then we were required to call her Mrs. Rife. We always found that a bit different but that was the rule.
Mom was a farmer’s daughter and subsequently a farmer’s wife for most of her adult life until our family moved to Mount Vernon in 1958. She accepted a teaching position at MVHS and Dad stayed on the farm to close things down that winter before joining us in Mount Vernon. We were tenant farmers so the house in Mount Vernon was the first one they owned in their married life, and the only one. She was extremely proud of her rural life and also very protective of those who grew up in the rural areas. She really did not tolerate comments that were negative about the farm kids.
After her graduation from Iowa State Teachers College (now UNI), she spent six years teaching in three different schools and then married our dad, Wayne ‘Babe’ Rife, in 1940. They farmed together in Nichols until the family moved to Mount Vernon in 1958. As kids we were pretty excited to be townies. This was a whole new world for us, so we really experienced two different lives. Mom taught in Nichols High School for four years when Roger reached school age.
During the time on the farm, she also began writing a weekly column for the ‘Lone Tree Reporter’ and the ‘Iowa City Press Citizen’ which she began in 1948 and continued until 1961. One of the neat things she gave to each of us children was seven bound books that contain all of her columns so we have an opportunity to look back on our lives. Her columns were a mixture of reflections of things in our daily lives plus observations and opinions about matters happening at the local, state, national and world scene. Sometimes a poem or a recipe would end up in there also.
In the fall of 1948 while pregnant with Roger, she was diagnosed with polio. The polio concentrated in her left leg, deteriorating one muscle and a “drop foot.” Amazingly, she was in the hospital for only a week and then our dad took over the duties of hot pack treatments. She wore a brace for two years and then discarded that, but it left her with a distinctive gait for the rest of her life. She only missed one week of writing her weekly column during this stressful time.
It was at MVHS where she really built her reputation as a teacher. It is amazing to me how many of her former students have told me what a difference she made in their lives. Many of them were encouraged by her to do things that were really out of their comfort zone and beyond what they felt they were capable of doing. I watched her take students and turn them into real good performers, gaining confidence as they went along. She also got others involved in the speech or theater productions including lighting and stage construction etc.
Jane Colehour Pospisil ‘68 sent along some thoughts about mom which I think sums up a lot of what I have heard from so many:
A lot of these reflections of Jane are shared with many others that I have talked to over the years. Many of them didn’t realize what an impact she had on their lives until they were older. Mom always looked forward to many of them coming back to visit her at her one and only Mount Vernon home on 2nd St. SW when they could be back for one reason or other. We would reminisce many times in conversations about many of the students she had over the years.
Mom had many teaching colleagues that she enjoyed working with and admired. I hesitate to mention anyone as I’m likely to forget someone. Suffice it to say, she was very proud of her profession and all that made it their life’s work. Former Mount Vernon high school teacher Nyla McCall expressed what many of them felt. Not only were they colleagues but they served on several school and community committees together. Nyla commented that she was an amazing teacher who had a way of involving her students in learning areas they had never thought of as interesting. She remembers her in four words, AMAZING LADY-DYNAMIC TEACHER.
In 1965, mom and dad bought the railroad depot in Fayette, Iowa and moved it to some farmland that was part of the land where she grew up. They kept much of it as it was inside, including the bench seating etc. and turned it into their vacation home. They enjoyed going up there and just relaxing and enjoying. Dad had his horses there as he loved to ride. Mom just enjoyed being there with the serene and beautiful countryside. After Dad died in 1974, mom turned it into a railroad museum, but it also remained a place for her to stay. They had to move it again after the land was condemned by the state, but they did it. She added an apartment in the basement and a special bedroom on the first floor.
Mom continued to teach after Dad died and retired in 1979. She continued her education as an intern at the University of Iowa’s Museum of Natural History as an archivist and research assistant.
Then in 1988 at the age of 73 she received her PhD in American Studies with a minor in Women’s Studies from the University of Iowa. At the same time she also continued to run her Depot Museum in Fayette, Iowa.
All of her papers dated from 1920-1995 are archived in the Women’s Archives at the University of Iowa Libraries in Iowa City. In addition, a copy of her columns were given to the Cornell College Library.
She was proud of her children, their spouses and her grandchildren and enjoyed many happy times with her family. Her darkest and most difficult times were at the death of our dad in 1974 and our sister Jeanne’s death in 1997.
Mom was very active for most of her life and lived in her home until the last month of her life. She passed away on February 11, 2002. She lives on through the many lives that she touched.
Thank you to the former educators and alumni who wrote in to give us the following memories of Mrs. Rife.
One of her greatest strengths was her conviction that students that do not usually involve themselves in plays should do so. She would see them in the hall and draft them into a play. Of course, no one could say no to Mrs. Rife’s directives. She drafted Ivan ‘Ozzy’ Simonds ‘73 and Dave Ohlfest ‘75 to act in ‘Guys and Dolls.’ They had never been in a play before and I am sure they had never considered being in a play. They had a great time and I am sure it was one of the highlights of their high school experience. In the same play she suggested to me that I should build a fireplace stage left. I did so, but the next night she wanted it stage right. She often changed the blocking and wanted the fireplace to fit her changes. The third night she wanted the change the location of the fireplace again. I did the only thing I knew that worked with Mrs. Rife which was to simply say ‘NO.’ She did not ask to have it changed again. It was a great play by the way thanks to Mrs. Rife and Lois Nichols, the choir director.
She was critical of her peers and a stickler for accuracy. Knowing this I had checked every word of a report I was to give to the teachers. She read it and her comments was, “Mr. Halsey, how quaint of you to use the old English spelling” of a word, (I do not remember the word). She knew I did not know how to spell the word. It was a beautiful put down and without a doubt put me in my place. She was not only unforgettable but also a brilliant teacher. None of her students will ever forget her, nor will any who were fortunate to have taught with her.
Charles Halsey, former MVHS teacher
Ahhhh, Mrs. Rife, what a wonderful teacher she was. She was one of the best teachers I had in school. I remember she was trying to get us to read current events in the newspaper and had quite a time convincing one of my classmates there was more to the paper than the funnies.
Mrs. Rife had a ingenious way of getting her point across to you, and if that didn’t work, she would give you “THAT LOOK”, if that didn’t do it, you were a lost cause. But there weren’t too many lost causes in her classes. She was a wonderful teacher and one of the most admired of all. She was a very impressive lady.
Annamae Baker ‘60, Mount Vernon, IA
I was in high school 1966-1969. While I don’t remember the exact year(s) that Mrs. Rife was my English teacher, I do remember her class and how much she taught me! At the young age of high school I didn’t appreciate how critical it would be in life to know how to read and write clearly as well to read and think clearly about what was written.
Mrs. Rife was demanding of me, but by doing so I learned so much and have thought of her often as the person in my life who helped me express myself in a way that was understandable and concise.
I would like to express my thanks and admiration to Mrs. Rife and her dedication to teaching and doing so in a way that helped me my entire adult life.
Doug Ohlfest ’69, Polk City, IA
I remember quite often having to recite: “Speak The Speech I Pray You, As I Pronounce It To You Trippingly On The Tongue” She was strict but had a gentle witty side as well.
Kate Klinsky Mallie ’77, Lisbon, IA
Although I worked for her for several years and even lived in her home for a time after high school, I don’t think I ever called Mrs. Rife by her Christian name, Gladys. At least not to her face. I didn’t have class with her until my junior or senior year, but she had me collared for Speech competitions and plays long before then. An inimitable force to be reckoned with if you didn’t hold up your end of the deal, I did what she asked of me and learned so much in the process. We shared great adventures driving to Fayette to work on her historic depot as it developed into the Railroad Depot Museum. Other days we scouted the countryside seeking to photograph deserted Chicago Great Western train engines and rail cars. She could make an unparalleled cup of coffee with her special percolator and Maxwell House coffee, and often we sat at her kitchen table discussing nearly everything. We stayed in touch long after I left the area, and I reconnected with her upon my return to Iowa. I loved her. She loved everybody – her family, the thespians, wayward students, and other teachers who very temporarily invaded her creative space. What a remarkable woman. I think of her often and miss her still.
Andrea Jilovec ’75, Marion, IA
I was in Mrs. Rife’s English Literature class 1960-1961. I enjoyed the class and appreciated her knowledge.
Mary Sue Reilly Freese ‘61, Marion, IA
It has been over six decades since Mrs. Rife taught English Literature to the seniors in the Class of 1959. I remember how enthusiastic she was in introducing the class to the distinctive rhythmic structure of “iambic pentameter” as used by Chaucer in his famous “Canterbury Tales”. When she assigned each of us to construct a poem using iambic pentameter and then orally present it to the rest of the class, some of us more bashful boys were less than excited, to say the least! Mrs. Rife saved the day for us, however. Ron Hess had one of those new fangled reel-to-reel tape recorders, and Mrs. Rife agreed to let the four of us (Ron, Denny Koch, Jon Swanberg, and me) record our poems and play them for the class using Ron’s tape recorder. We were all on the track team that semester and each of us wrote a poem to describe our favorite event; e.g., “The Miler”, “The Broad Jumper”, “The Shot Putter”, etc. Our presentation went well as I recall, thanks primarily to Mrs. Rife’s willingness to allow an unusual alternative to the normal method of reading out loud to the rest of the class!
I tried my hand at writing a short poem about her using the “iambic pentameter” style she introduced to us. Here’s what I came up with:
“I once had a teacher named “Rife”,
Who loved English Lit her whole life,
She answered the call,
Gave her students her all,
Best teacher I’ve had in my life!”
I wonder what grade Mrs. Rife would have given me on this?!
Rich Hoidahl ‘59, Johnston, IA
Several years ago I was working at Bauman’s during Christmas. Gladys came in to do her shopping and we got to talking about high school plays. She remembered all the plays and talent shows Dave Neal and I had been in. As I was carrying her purchases down the street to her car, we just kept walking. I said ‘Gladys, where are we going?’ She said, ‘I don’t know, Steve. I forgot where I parked.’
Steve Neal ‘66, Mount Vernon, IA
Oh, my. Stories from English classes with Mrs. Rife. Where to start ... I remember well the class period when the question was “How do you start a discussion?” I answered that anything could start a discussion. Mrs. Rife was uncertain that was the best answer, so she asked me to give it a try with the class. I remember trying various subjects - the door, this classroom, my sweater, etc. Dead silence from the others in the class UNTIL I formed a question - What do you suppose that door is made of? Lesson learned! Sophomore and junio year English with Mrs. Rife.
Barb Clarke Oakland ‘67, Marion, IA
In either my sophomore or senior year Mrs. Rife offered a Women’s Studies class. I’m not sure what my motivation was for taking the class but never the less I did. It evidently didn’t help me much, cause I’m still clueless. Anyway, during one lesson she was discussing inhibitions and how they keep us from being heard. My memory is a little fuzzy on this bit, but I think she asked the class to act like a cow and moo (It was either the whole class or one student, that’s what I’m fuzzy on). What she got in reply was a very timid “moo”. Immediately she said, “No, if you’re going to be a cow you have to look and act like a cow”. At which point she got down on all fours and started tossing her head around and “moo’ed” very loudly. While still on all fours she said, “ and if you’re a pig …”, and she started oinking and snorting like a pig. She continued with a couple of other animals, and by then we were all getting over being startled, and were quite amused. I always liked Mrs. Rife, but that day I gained a whole new respect for her.
Jim Moore ‘78, Sykesville, MD
Mrs Rife always taught us to use your tongue and A-R-T-I-C-U-L-A-T-E.
Vance Rahn. ‘66, Anderson, SC
Mrs. Rife is one of the teachers that I’ll never forget. Never dreaming that I would be in a position to be a speaker and needing the training she gave us, life turned out differently. For 45 years, I have been a speaker for Stonecroft Ministries, and other events. Always, always, when writing the text, her words came back to me, “Tell them what you are going to say, say it, and then tell them what you said.” Her advice to write the introductions and conclusions first, baffled me in high school but served very useful in life. Public speaking was the last thing on a list of things I’d ever want to do. Thanks to Mrs. Rife, preparation was made for that in spite of myself.
Karilyn Mead Eastvold ‘66, Springfield, IL
Gladys Rife was a wonderful woman and teacher, and in retrospect 50 years later would have been perfectly justified in killing many of us boys who were in her classes! I wish I could have met her after high school and apologized to her like I did to Mrs. Donna Jacobs , who was also a long suffering but very impactful teacher in my past. Both ladies are the sole reason that I managed over the latter part of my career in manufacturing to assemble a decent paragraph or coherent email.
I remember an assignment by Mrs. Rife to commit to memory and be prepared to recite to the class “ The Masque of the Red Death” by Edgar Allen Poe. Much of the semester grade depended on successful presentation and I remember agonizing for weeks while working on my presentation. I just looked the “Masque” up on the internet, and reciting by memory is terrifying enough today, much less at 15! But, I managed, and did OK terrified as I was at public speaking, even with an audience who would soon have their turn at the podium and were as scared as I.
Thank you Mrs. Rife, you were a gem, a class act, and I wish I would have realized and said so back in the day.
Kevin Woods ‘73, Mount Vernon, IA
Mrs. Rife was everything an English teacher should be: knowledgeable, working with us kids in a refreshingly bookish way, an effective missionary for the English language. She was an old fashioned schoolmarm in an endearing way, influencing me to finish college as an English major.
Conrad Leighton ‘67, White Bear, MN
Mrs. Gladys Rife brought a level of sophistication and civility to MVHS students who paid attention to her poise and demeanor whenever they were around her. She was well read and chose her words and postures wisely and judiciously when interacting with students, peers, or friends. She was a lady to be admired and appreciated, and we were blessed to have her as one of our MVHS teachers.
Mike Seiler ‘67, Bonita, CA, Mount Vernon Hall of Fame member
I think it’s great you’re doing an article about the fabulous Gladys Rife. She retired the year before I started high school so I never had her as a teacher, however, she was a salon client of mine for several years before she passed. She would come into my salon weekly and tell so many incredible stories and I noticed that if others were in the salon and had her as a teacher, they always addressed her as Mrs. Rife or Dr. Rife regardless of their age. After a few years I finally asked her why she allowed me to call her by her first name and not by Mrs. or Dr. I remember her grabbing my hands, smiling and saying, “Oh Linda. You never had me as a teacher so you don’t have to show me the kind of respect my former students do”. I gave her a hug as we both laughed. I adored her so much!
Linda Russell Brooks ‘83, Lisbon, IA
I imagine some lengthy memories have been written about Mrs. Rife and to their authors I say DITTO!!! My most vivid remembrance was when she was introduced to our class. Her only comment to me was” Oh, you must be Richard Hoidahl’s kid brother”. I knew then the pressure to do my best.
Randy Hoidahl ’61, Aurora, CO
Gladys was an inspiration to everyone she came in contact with. I was in speech and theater and took an independent English class from her. I cleaned her house after school and she always had interesting stories about the railroad museum and could educate you on anything, including life. She was the best!
Jenifer Chadek Prowant ‘74, Robins, IA
I believe it was in an English Literature class that we were to read a passage from a book and to write what our thoughts were on the passage and hand it in to her. To my great surprise the next day she picked my comments and read it to the class. It was probably the first time I received any recognition in any class and it has stuck with me all these years. It was a defining moment for me. A little bit of encouragement can go a long way and it was a lesson well learned.
Steve Kroeger ‘63, Casey, IA
I spent two years at Mount Vernon High. By any standard of a grown man who wishes now that I knew then the value of a true hearted young woman, I’m sure I fell in love at least twice. I miss the likes of Gladys Rife even though we never fell in love. I miss those roots and the eastern Iowa communities that formed the man I would later become. I had lunch at Gladys’ house and was blessed to grow up in a small community where people knew my family even though I was ignorant to how valuable that was. Without that community it would be unlikely that I would be alive to pen this prose today.
I remember teachers who were patient and insightful beyond expectation, as well as those who should really have never been left alone to form adolescent minds and spirits. My experience in Mount Vernon was mostly the former, and thank goodness, rarely the latter. Most of the teachers treated me with greater grace than I deserved, and for those who did not, we had little grace for one another.
I have heard my peers say how Gladys may have intimidated or frightened them, but to me she was inspirational. She rose to meet my level of confusion, anger, rebellion and defiance in a way that sought to steer it into a constructive outcome. Much like a cowhand steers a stray back into the heard, she rode to the left and then to the right until my words found form. Undoubtedly from the angst in my heart, and from my sense of isolation but undeniably from the things she asked me to read.
Her attention to the conflict within my adolescent soul, the need to find some resolution, and the potential for literature and writing to guide a youngster’s otherwise naïveté, guided me through a time when there seemed to be no right answers, only lessons. I carried this struggle all through my college years. If only I would have known then the value of those lessons as well as I understand them today.
Today I would say to Gladys, thank you for your devoted dedication to the youth of the Mount Vernon community, and to the rest of you: my classmates, my other teachers, to the parents whose children I may have distressed - I owe you all a debt that can never be repaid. In some ways it is the debt owed by all children to a community that knows deep in their hearts that we are all struggling youth at some time or another in our young lives.
I see these characteristics less often in schools or our communities today.(Editor’s note: Roger is Superintendentat Littleton Elementary School District #65 in Avondale, AZ.) As frightening as the waning Vietnam era and seventies recession was for our coming of age, I long for that era of optimism not yet lost. We suffered the riots of the 60s, we lost Jack and Bobby, we lost four at Kent State, we lost faith in the presidency, and worst of all, we had to drive 55 mph. It seems so long ago, but we also sent the first man to the moon, and before we graduated, we went to galaxies far, far away - and found the force was with us.
I hope for that time again when teachers like Gladys Rife might be in the lives of all youth: with high expectations and with unwavering faith that there is more potential within each of us if we would make it unleashed. That is how I would remember her.
Dr. Roger S. Freeman ‘77, Phoenix, AZ
Mrs. Gladys Rife had a huge impact on my life. I was a C student in high school as school was not a priority. I knew I had to finish high school. Mrs. Rife was my English teacher for a couple of years and I always admired her. Grammar and composition were important to her and so they became important to me. I got an A on one of my final term papers. Mrs. Rife took time to go through the paper line by line. She showed me specifics about why she liked the paper. I watched her carefully think about everything she said. Her opinion mattered to me. She taught me writing took time, effort, and thought. She showed me it was a skill worth developing. I graduated from Sam Houston State University in Huntsville, Texas with a 3.3 GPA. Along with many others I will always be grateful to Mrs. Rife for the influence she had on my life.
Mary Livingston Moorman ‘70, Colorado Springs, CO
Mrs. Rife was the best teacher I ever had! (including colleges) She taught me to learn, whether I liked it or not. She made me do things, such as speech contests, that I never would have done on my own. I have remembered her frequently over the years and am very grateful for all she taught me.
She was not afraid to use whatever tools she needed. I noticed one day, while the rest of the class was at work at their desks, she was working with an exchange student at her desk. She was helping him to read English using a resource that was not highly respected at the time. They were reading a comic book!
Jane Rogers Gray ‘65, Dallas, GA
It has taken me days to try to express in the written word what Mrs. Rife taught me. She would be so disappointed it took me so long but she taught me to be precise. Mrs. Rife taught me how to write and that gift gave me my livelihood as a Director of Bids and Contracts. She taught me how to “code” a paragraph with a subject and supportive verbiage in absolute perfect English. My what Bill Gates could have learned from her. Her gift was taught to my daughter who is a successful manager at a major bank in Charlotte, NC. Upon receiving an award from the CEO of Bank of America, he asked “how did she learn to write so well?” She said she learned it from me. That wasn’t actually true. She learned it from Mrs. Rife. Thank you, Mrs. Rife.
Kathy Moore Shelton ’67, Archdale, NC
We had our 50th reunion this summer. The evening we met in the actual high school building, we spent time remembering and reminiscing about our days at MVHS. With the benefit of hindsight, we all agreed that we were incredibly lucky, and profoundly grateful to have lived in Mount Vernon during those chaotic days. Our high school was staffed by such quality teachers for so small a school and town.
Mrs. Rife was one of those mentioned as being outstanding, having made a lasting difference in the lives of so many of her students. One of my favorite classes in all four years was Mrs. Rife’s Honors English class. I have thought about the courage and dedication it took to gather that particular group of personalities, ages, and perspectives for several hours a week. We were diverse, opinionated, loud, and we had a collection of some of the funniest humorists I have ever known. There were days I’m sure she felt she wouldn’t get a word in edgewise!
We worked hard, read classics, Shakespeare, poetry, contemporary fiction, as well as political magazines. We all looked forward to that class and the hours we spent together.
Even in college, I had only one instructor that challenged me the way she did. If Mrs. Rife saw potential, you were ‘doomed’ to be chosen for school dramas, speech contests, and more sophisticated, intensive reading materials. She was a small, but mighty force, and did not take “no” for an answer. Once she saw a small light she worked hard to fan that spark into a fire.
Because of Mrs. Rife, I discovered a love for literature that might easily have been lost in my youthful passion for a social life. I felt honored when she approved of anything I said or wrote, and her criticisms were careful and instructive. I worked hard to earn her approval, and though she was not lavish with her praise, I always left her conferences with a renewed sense of purpose, and the belief that I could do better. I know I would have never dared go to speech contests, or act in a play, if not for Mrs. Rife’s assumption that I would follow her lead, and I could do what she asked.
I’m forever grateful for her ability to see potential where I thought there was none.
Linda Wallace Wiltfang ‘69 , North Liberty, IA
Loved Mrs. Rife! You didn’t mess around in her class!
Linda Peterson Nost ‘63, Lisbon, IA
I appreciated all that Mrs. Rife did during my high school years. Not only in the classroom but the extra activies. Working tirelessly to give us 100%.
Jean Plank Stinehour ‘60, Littleton, NH
Gladys Rife arrived at Mount Vernon High in the fall of 1959. My classmates and I were seniors that year pretty secure that we knew how the school year should proceed. However, we hadn’t planned on this new, intimidating English/ literature teacher who meant to challenge us. One of my friends, a top student who was so intimidated by her first impression of Mrs. Rife, dropped English and added Home Ec. It was her loss as we came to know Mrs. Rife, her high expectations for us, and her ability to guide us in achieving them. She was a force of nature!
Jane Fink, Class of ‘59
Gladys Rife was a brilliant educator, a legend in her own time. Mrs. Rife cared deeply for her students, and strongly instilled the fundamental maxim: “Think before you speak”.
She inspired us to do our best, whether in the classroom, or in our extra circular activities for which she was responsible. Velvet Curtain, State Speech Contests, and high school plays were her passions.
Mrs. Rife was innovative and creative in her presentations. She was sensitive, impassioned creativity, and enjoyed a rare rapport with her students. She demanded that we “go the extra mile”. She encouraged us to always do our best.
To this day I am still mindful of some of Mrs. Rife’s favorite grammatical quips: “Books lay, people lie”, and “Lights are illuminated, people get lit”.
Rosalie Bowman Gallagher ‘63
I can only say we were so exceptionally privileged to have experienced Mrs. Rife as our teacher at MVHS. One very clearly remembered experience I had was in her speech class Even having attended school with the same group of classmates since 3rd grade, getting up in front of a class to give a speech was one of the hardest things I ever had to do up to that point. I got through the first one, beet red and sweating like an athlete, but I did it! Everything else in her classes was great!
Susan Hansen Aragon ‘66, Loveland, CO
Simply put, Mrs. Rife was the best teacher I had at any level. She taught me how to speak, how to write and how to think. She always challenged me to reach higher but always in a way that made me realize that I could do more. Her influence enabled me to succeed and I whispered thanks to her more times than I can count during my career. She was an amazing teacher!
Tim Simmons ‘64, Bluffton, SC
Gladys Rife was well-beyond our measure of extraordinary!
She had a skill, a talent, a wisdom and a gentle touch for teaching. She was so refined and adroit at motivating her students - business executives could have learned so much from her.
You couldn’t help yourself – you worked extra hard for her to please her.
When she returned an assigned paper to each member of the class, she would offer a “lifting” comment:
“James, you have explored the topic with your consistent thoroughness in that way that you do and it was a pleasure to read.”
Then she would give you the improvement that she wanted you to address in your next assignment:
You always felt good about what you had done and yet knew there was more to do to be a better writer. She treated everyone the same.
I wrote four or five papers on novels of Joseph Conrad. She pushed me hard to dig into them, to understand how and from where the author was crafting his or her story and the characters in it, but she always did so with kindness and encouragement.
As student body president at one point, I was informed that I would have to address the fans and parents at the Homecoming Game. Are you kidding me? But she took me aside, helped me to think through what I wanted to share with the audience, improved my word choice and phrasing, helped me to clarify my thoughts, and then she rehearsed and polished me – both in terms of how I spoke the words and how I presented the ideas. I survived somehow, because of Mrs. Rife.
After graduation from Mount Vernon High School and then Cornell College, I went on to complete Masters and Ph. D. Degree at Duke University, for which I had to write a dissertation as the last major step (a two-year + effort). It had to pass muster before a faculty committee, who would decide whether the student could receive the Ph.D. or not. I dedicated that dissertation to Mrs. Gladys Rife (and my parents). I knew very well who had helped me to be a writer and to express myself at the necessary level.
One day she came up to me in the hall. She said “We are going to begin presenting an all-school play each year. This will be our first year of doing so. The auditions will be tomorrow night and you’ll be there.” And she walked away.
I could never say no to Mrs. Rife, not out of fear but out of respect. So I went home and asked my parents “What is an all-school play and what are auditions?” I eventually performed in my first theatrical show. She went on to produce three shows during my years at Mount Vernon High and I had the opportunity to learn about the craft of acting and the task of mounting a production (including building, painting and dressing sets).
Since then I have been in more than 23 community theater shows in Green Bay, been an actor in six local film productions (including a 60-minute film on the history of Bellin Hospital created by a commercial agency), and have portrayed numerous local historic individuals buried in area cemeteries (fund raising for the Historic Society).
Mrs. Rife introduced me to something called “speech contest”, which I had never heard of before. It was another one of those “Michael, we need to get you ready for Speech Contest, so let’s pick a piece for you to memorize and present and then we will set up a rehearsal schedule”.
Again…“Yes, Mrs. Rife”. I could never say no because underneath it all, somehow, as a high school student, you knew she had your best interests in mind. She always did.
I have been fortunate to teach in a University classroom (30 years), been a business consultant writing strategic plans (100+ over 30 years), and have made presentations, scripted acting vignettes, and presented business podcasts and webinars…..all leaning heavily upon what Mrs. Rife taught me about writing, speaking, understanding language and its many nuances, and enjoying the challenges of communication.
I would never have discovered and enjoyed the unique opportunities that have come my way, without the extraordinary guidance and teaching of Gladys Rife. Through all this time I have used her teaching model for teaching others, applied her attention to the details of effective communication, and I continue to enjoy the wonder of learning.
Michael Troyer ’61, Green Bay, WI