Centenarian Kathryn Gardner Weber joyfully reflects on a life of music, teaching
Seated at the piano, Kathryn Gardner Weber’s fingers glide over the keys, playing each note with gusto as the years fall away.
She first learned how to play the piano in 1920, at the age of five. Her mother would play a song, and Gardner Weber would play the tune back, by ear. She quickly learned how to read music, and later went on to write her own. She performed publicly for more than 75 years, playing at churches starting at age 12.
Her grandfather fought in the Civil War; her grandmother told her stories of Lincoln’s funeral.
Her mother, Viola, Gardner Weber recalled with a twinkle in her eye and a hint of longing in her voice, was the first woman in Dundee to drive a car – and she also taught herself how to change the oil and the tires.
When Kathryn King married Lloyd Gardner in 1940, she was expected to resign from her teaching post at Bolivar Elementary. (Her first year of teaching, she earned $900.)
“Married women weren’t allowed to teach,” she said. “So I called upon the superintendent, and he sent me to a country school, even though I was married.”
The “country school” was Dundee – where she’d attended as a child; and she taught there until her retirement as technology advanced from hectographs to mimeographs to copy machines.
She taught for 33 years before earning her bachelor’s degree – she’d earned her teaching certificate at what once was Kent College – enrollment 500.
“My daughters earned their degrees from Malone,” Gardner Weber said. “So I decided to get mine, too!”
Brenda Kay (Gardner) Rutledge ’67, now living in El Paso, Texas, was the first in the family to graduate from Malone with her teaching degree. Jean (Gardner) Thomas ’69 graduated in May. And Gardner Weber graduated in August of 1969, after two years of night classes. Heather (Thomas) Miller, a third generation of teachers, graduated in 2003.
“We’ve loved Malone since our very first visit,” said Gardner Weber, who – like her daughters – gives faithfully and generously to their alma mater. Her cousin, Ralph Regula, also is a great supporter of Malone University. “We visited a lot of different colleges, for Brenda Kay, but I appreciated the morals and the faith at Malone. In many of the classes I took, the professors opened up with prayer, and I especially enjoyed my Bible classes.”
Heather recently gave birth to a daughter, Pippen. Perhaps college at Malone and a career as an educator is in store for this fourth generation of strong and capable women.