Guest Opinion

Can you read this? “Hab SoSlI Otch!”

No, probably not. It’s Klingon. Young Sheldon probably could. “Your mother has a smooth forehead!” (Don’t say this to a Klingon.)

How about this? “The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog.”

Good job.

Now, who was it that unraveled that 26-letter code for you and opened one of life’s great delights, reading?

For me it was my first-grade teacher, Miss Lillian Bohnstadt. I was not one of those precocious first graders that came to school already knowing how to read so I would have to say she would rank right up there as one of the most important people in my life.

I guess what brought this subject to mind was the approaching end of the school year and various items in the Brown County Democrat announcing local activities in anticipation of Teacher Appreciation Week which always occurs in early May.

Well Miss Lillian, I think it is time I learned more about you.

While researching young World War II Brown County boys I was accustomed to finding perhaps two, three, or if lucky four news items in the archives. Well, Miss Lillian, that was not the case with you. I have filled three legal pad pages listing news items tracing your history.

Miss Bohnstadt was born in 1883, went to Manual High School in Indianapolis and then to Butler as did most of the Bohnstadts. (Her brother, Charles, played basketball for the Bulldogs.)

Her entire teaching career — which spanned 47 years — was spent as part of the Indianapolis Public School System.

Every year in May the local newspapers would publish the teacher assignments for the next school year and as the city expanded so did the school corporation with new buildings popping up on a regular basis.

Such was the case in 1937 when the newest elementary appeared named for Joyce Kilmer and numbered 69. Kilmer was an author and poet best known for his poem “Trees.”

This was appropriate as the new school occupied a beautifully wooded block on the northside. The number was likewise appropriate as Kilmer was a member of New York’s “Fighting 69th Infantry” during World War I. Kilmer would be killed by a sniper’s bullet in France in July of 1918. He was 31.

Joyce Kilmer School would be Miss Bonstadt’s last teaching destination and as always assigned to the incoming first graders with the mission of untangling the mystery of those 26 letters.

Her tenure at Kilmer would last until the 1950-1951 school year. I was in her class of 1947-1948.

You might ask what filled all those legal pad pages. Well, every month there was information on the groups to which she belonged. There was the Manual Saturday Afternoon Literary Club, her card club, the Altenheim Auxiliary, and the Philanthropic Educational Organization to name a few.

There was one story where her class while outside spotted a strange bird in one of the trees. On closer examination Miss Bohnstadt recognized the bird’s parrot beak and realized it was someone’s love bird. She and the class were able to corral the bird and got the word out and soon enough the love bird was returned to its mate and owner.

As you surmised, Lillian never married. She was named as a survivor as each obituary came out for her parents, siblings and other near relatives.

Miss Bohnstadt died in May 1988. Yes, she was 105! You might have expected an extensive obituary but hardly a soul remained that would have been able to fill in her life’s many details.

The announcement of her death was simply stated under Death Certificates on the May 3, 1988 daily register page:

“Lillian Bohnstadt, 105, 315 Westfield Boulevard, heart failure.”

It was perhaps appropriate that her passing occurred that first week in May, Teacher Appreciation Week.

This is for you Miss Bohnstadt from me and the hundreds of kids you started down that most adventurous road of reading. Thank you.

Jim Watkins is a Brown County resident who was a public school teacher for 42 years and has special interest in history. He is also a member of the Brown County Historical Society. He can be reached at [email protected].