Farmers and teachers must be the most optimistic people in the world. They plant the seeds, work hard and hope for the best. Evelyn McCracken has a good background with both: she started out on a farm, then found her life's work as a teacher. McCracken embodies the soul of the optimist, with the courage it takes to be loving and patient with children.
She grew up on a farm in Milnor, N.D. "We grew everything - wheat, corn, flax - everything," she said. In the fall of 1942, she began teaching. Grades one through eight were combined in one class and McCracken said she had a wonderful time. She began her working life just after the start of World War II, a frightening time for everyone, but for her the beginning of a satisfying career. The war was terrifying but the class was fun, she was happy and the children, as always, were delightful.
"I love teaching. It is the best profession I could have gone into. I was a pretty good typist and I was encouraged to go into the secretarial field," she said. But her love of children prompted her into the career of a lifetime.
McCracken taught in North Dakota for three years. Then she spent one year, 1945-46, teaching in Montana. "That's where I met my husband, Leo Raymond McCracken, who is known to everyone as ‘Jim.'"
When the couple moved here, Jim began working at the Jones-Scott Co. and in 1958 or 1959, she went on to teach fifth grade at Davis Elementary School in College Place.
After that, McCracken was moved to fourth grade briefly, and then to second grade, where she continued for another 20 years. "I just loved it. Second grade was my favorite." The younger children completely captivated her. "They are so loving and they want to learn. Even the children with difficulties, there's always some good in everyone. One little guy used to bring checkers to school, he was so good at it and so fast. I just love children," McCracken said.
She loved encouraging the little ones to learn to read - all the adventures they could have, the things they could experience if they could just read. So McCracken shared her love of books with the children. Children respond to enthusiasm, so learning was always presented that way. She had cut-outs of little bears displayed around the room; on each bear were the book titles read by the children. Each child had his or her own little bear with their reading successes listed on it.
Some of the books she's loved and shared with hundreds of children include the "Boxcar Children" series, the Laura Ingalls Wilder books and "Charlotte's Web."
McCracken retired in about 1989, and she said, it was a big adjustment. "I missed it so much, I substituted for three years, just to try to get it out of my system. Then I volunteered at the office at DeSales."
Her husband is retired from a career at the Jones-Scott Co.
The McCrackens have two daughters, two sons and nine grandchildren. They have lived in the same house since 1955. "I have a wonderful family," she said.
McCracken always loved books and reading, so sharing that love with children in her classes was natural. She has a passion for crossword puzzles and all kinds of sewing, including knitting, crochet and embroidery. And she loves her photographs. "I've spent a lot of time putting together my photograph albums. I have about 50 or 60 photo albums in the family room. I have all my pictures of all my kids from every grade."
From time to time she sees her former students, and there are plenty of them, after teaching for most of her life. Reconnecting with past students is something that happens often and she loves it.
Friendships and love motivate her; family connections have always been important in her life. She has a sister in Western Washington and two brothers in North Dakota.
"I had a wonderful mother and dad, so caring," she said.
They always emphasized that they had faith in her abilities and judgment.
Through the years she and her husband have done a bit of traveling, with family in the Midwest and on the coast. They have family reunions every couple of years so they've gone back to North Dakota and to Wisconsin plenty of times.
However, the planned location for the next one is Billings, so it's half the distance to travel.
Her advice for current and future teachers: "Show the children appreciation and love. Give them a little pat on the back for every success." Love, praise and gentleness encourage children to succeed while maintaining a safe and secure environment for them. "I've had wonderful students. Some had some rough times. Give them encouragement; encouragement and praise go a long way."
Nurturing students, teaching, is kind of like farming. In both cases, your crops will create the future of the world.
Karlene Ponti can be reached by calling 509-526-8324 or by e-mail at email@example.com.