Gratias Tibi Ago, Domina Spitler

Mrs Spitler0001My Latin teacher at the Eastern Lebanon County High School was Mrs. May Wike Spitler.

She was a good, even a very good, teacher of Latin.

I recall going through the five declensions of the nouns and the four conjugations of verbs.

Amo, Amas, Amat, Amamus, Amatis, Amant. (Hey, I just did that from memory and got it right!)

And at least one time she had us write an essay on some Latin topic of our choosing (I chose Julius Caesar, my favorite Roman (at least if I ignore all the slaughtering his armies did of the Gauls and others)).

And when the movie Quo Vadis was re-released, she organized a trip to the Colonial Theater in Lebanon for all her Latin students. Other than the title, that movie had very little to do with Latin, but it did get a lot of the historical details about Roman life in the first century correct. So that generated some discussion. (Though I recall that many of the girls found the scene where a slave girl kissed the statue of her master rather yucky. 🤢)

Mrs Spitler0002But what I remember most is her compassion for her students.

Very often our Latin classes began with a 10 or 15 minute prologue discussing some recent current event or TV show or whatever. While the motivation may have been to delay getting into the lesson, I usually found the discussions interesting, and lots of the kids participated. And Mrs. Spitler always knew when to cut us off and start the lesson. As I think about it, sometimes those were really gripe sessions—about the latest decree of the school’s administration or about one of the other teachers. She was a good listener and knew when to let us blow off steam.

Mrs. Spitler used to teach at the Richland school and had taught my mother way, way back. I’m sure I have a picture of young Mrs. Spitler and her class with my mother from the late 30s or early 40s, but I can’t find it now. (I wish I had known it at the time that she had previously taught my mother, as it would have been fun to see if she remembered her. There may have been some good stories.)

Mrs. Spitler retired at the end of our sophomore year. But the summer before I was to start at Penn State, I either wrote her a letter or called her (I don’t recall which), and asked if she would be willing to spend a little time with me refreshing my memory of Latin. She would and she did. I went to her home in Schaefferstown one evening, and she was very gracious in reviewing some of the fundamentals with me. (As a result when I took a placement test my first week at Penn State, I did so well that I was offered Latin IV as they did not offer Latin III that term; I sent her a thank you note.)

Mrs Spitler0003

Gratias tibi ago, Domina Spitler!


[Note: as with many of my blog posts, this one started out as an email message, in this case to a former classmate.]

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