■ By Rob Lindquist / Contributed
As people will often do when someone of virtue, an exemplar, a deeply loved teacher and pillar of the community leaves us, we want to remember them; we want their legacy to go on. And this honoring of beloved educator Gwendolyn Schlange came on April 13 on the campus of Mt. San Jacinto College. The fine new Gwendolyn E. Schlange Child Development and Education Center was formally named after this outstanding teacher in the presence and company of the MSJC Board, its administrators and instructors along with friends and citizens of the San Jacinto Valley and beyond. I’d like to share a little bit about why this exceptional woman deserves such an accolade.
Little Lake School still had its charming wooden schoolhouse when upon opening day in 1956 Gwendolyn Schlange, its newest teacher, appeared on our school ground just as the bell was about to ring. Over six feet in height, as slender as a shapely bean pole, she towered over the seven-year-old children that comprised her class of second grade students.
I was a tow-headed fifth grader who stood taller than most, if not all of my classmates, yet Miss Schlange was just too imposing to walk up to. And, then came my first unforgettable glimpse of her ability to deal with errant scamps. One of my classmates brought a “Pink Owl” bubble gum cigar to school. No sooner did he get it stuffed into his mouth that she ordered him to give it to her. Scared stiff, he placed the wad in her hand and lickety-split, she formed the gum into a thick, pink Band-Aid, which she then applied to the bridge of his upturned nose. Then Miss Schlange ordered him to stand, rigidly in one place, while the rest of us returned to our classroom. He was out there blowin’ and sniffin’ a good 10 minutes before he was permitted to rejoin his companions.
Time quickly revealed that this very special teacher was wonderfully kind and thoughtful. She was still teaching second graders at Little Lake when two of our daughters came under her purview years later. By then, she had proven herself to be the most loving, caring, and most motherly of teachers ever to have graced the Hemet Unified School District. For 45 years, she taught at Little Lake and then dedicated herself heart and soul for another 22 years in service as a trustee of MSJC and its campuses.
Known by her numerous friends and acquaintances, revered by generations of her students as “Gwen” or “Gwennie,” this ebullient river of knowledge and wisdom – this paragon of womankind – passed into the hands of God last November with nary a whimper. She never said a word to us about her own physicality, vulnerability or condition. No, she was at perfect peace and declared without a whit of self-doubt that she had successfully accomplished all she dreamed, all she set out to do and was ready to be with her Lord.
Perhaps the most appropriate tribute to our sweet “Gwennie” was a reading out of the Dr. Suess book entitled, “Oh, the Places You’ll Go” to a brand new generation of little children. It brought tears to my eyes because Gwen saved the great “See Spot run!” Dick and Jane books (primers) of my own youth. She secretly read them to her second graders long after they were taken out of our schools. I liked that, and I’ll never stop loving “Miss Schlange.”