An interview with Miss Mary Wiehe, circa 1980
Miss Mary Wiehe is pictured along with the other Hannibal High School teachers in 1947. She is standing on the second row, second from the right.
Mary Lou Montgomery interviewed Miss Mary Wiehe in April 1980, and wrote a story for the Hannibal Courier-Post. That story follows. Miss Wiehe died in 1996, and is buried at Mount Olivet Cemetery.
MARY LOU MONTGOMERY
April 11, 1980
Hannibal Courier Post
Mary Wiehe’s students are her children and teaching is her life. She is the supervisor of the art department at Hannibal-LaGrange College, but is best known for the more than 40 years she spent teaching art to students in the Hannibal Public School system.
She is an artist, teacher, friend and community activist. She stands firm in her belief in the individual, and fights almost daily to preserve human rights.
Mary Wiehe is an institution in Hannibal.
During the years she was art supervisor for the Hannibal schools, she taught roughly 4,000 students an average of once a week.
“I remember the real good students, and the real poor ones. When I can’t remember a pupil, I tell them, ‘4,000 students per year for more than 40 years – you figure it out.’”
Her philosophy for teaching is a simple one, and that is perhaps why she has remained a teacher for 50 years. “A teacher has to be a first class salesman, and she will fail if she doesn’t make the youngsters love her first. A teacher has to sell herself first, and the subject second.”
And her students do love her. One reason for her popularity is that she seldom fails a student. “After all, art is a matter of opinion,” she theorizes.
In addition to her teaching, she has taken an active role throughout her life in promoting and preserving Hannibal because she loves this town.
She was instrumental in equipping a second art room when the Hannibal Junior High School was built and had the rooms named after Kathern Helm. She organized and conducted annual Christmas-theme parades for many years and also helped organize the parade to honor Franklin Roosevelt when he visited Hannibal. She transformed a student center into an art building at the college, and her paintings and artwork as well as those of her students line the walls.
Her paintings have won many awards and she has studied at the Chi ago Art Institute and the Universities of Washing, Iowa and Colorado.
Until recently she regularly scrutinized in person the workings of the city government, and at one time her friends circulated a petition to get her to run for mayor. She declined, but was flattered by the attempt. Now, she says, “I leave the fighting to someone else.”
Teaching, however, is her primary love. “I first wanted to become a teacher when I was five years old, and at that time I thought all kids in the neighborhood should know how to spell “cat.” I can’t remember anytime that I didn’t want to be a teacher,” she says.
Miss Wiehe’s parents could not afford to send her to college to become a teacher, she remembers, “but two very fine teachers saw to it that my parents let me go.” She credits Rosalie Greene and Jessie Bradley with starting her along the road to her chosen career.
She won the only award presented at her high school graduation = “50 from the University Women, and used the money to help pay her tuition at Kirksville. She worked on two college yearbooks while a student at Kirksville State Teacher’s College and used the salaries to pay for her $16.50 per quarter tuition.
After two years of college, she began teaching and saved her money for further education. She again enrolled at Kirksville and quit her teaching job just before the Depression. The bank where her money was deposited closed, and the school system would not renew her contract. Nevertheless, she managed to finish her education before returning to Hannibal to teach.
Prior to completing her education she was paid $72 a month, but when she returned to teaching, her salary had dropped to $68 per month due to the Depression. “I didn’t complain,” she said, “because out of a class of 140, I was one of four who had a job.”
She taught for two years at Pettibone School before she was offered the art supervisor position.
“E.T. Miller asked me one morning if I would like to come and teach high school art that afternoon,” she said. “When I left Pettibone School, I cried.”
“When I went to the high school, I found that there were only 11 girls taking art, and no boys. I heard that the captain of the football team, Rayburn Chase, could draw. I talked him into signing up, and that was the breaking point for boys. In the years to follow, I had more boys in my classes than girls.”
In her early years, the number of teachers she supervised grew from 38 to 108. During the morning hours she taught at all schools in the Hannibal area, including Ilasco, Hydesburg, Douglass, Lincoln and all Hannibal public elementary schools.
Her association with Hannibal-LaGrange College began 42 years ago, she remembers, when she was approached about enriching the art department with early morning and late afternoon classes. “They wanted a class at 7:30 a.m. and 4 p.m., but they told me they couldn’t pay me anything. The first four years I taught for nothing,” she says.
After her retirement from the Hannibal Public Schools, she assumed a position with the college, and now teaches four days a week. “It’s like I’ve died and gone to heaven,” she says in reference to her liberal hours.
During her years of teaching in Hannibal she had offers from Northeast Missouri University at Kirksville, Culver-Stockton and from Detroit, Mich. “Time after time, I would be at the edge of signing a contract, and would back away. Whether it was an excuse or an alibi, I just didn’t want to leave Hannibal.
Today, she spends much of her time giving speeches to local clubs. She has been honored with a life honorary membership to the Woman’s Club and with an appreciation award from the Hannibal Chamber of Commerce.
Miss Wiehe sums up her teaching career quite simply. “I’ve had a lot of fun all along,” she says.
Click here to read about the Wiehe family's rich history in Hannibal.