When Mrs. Cadwell spoke, students listened.
Whether it was English or Spanish, students greeted Mrs. Cadwell with respectful silence when she entered the room. A hush engulfed her class like morning fog in a country glen.
Why was that?
It was more than Mrs. Cadwell knowing her subject and her students. Her mere presence somehow conveyed a mood that students immediately understood as professional but caring. If a student by some quirk didn’t observe this and initiated some sort of hijinks, Mrs. Cadwell’s eyes turned on him with a stern intensity that pinned him to his desk.
No raised voice. No threats. No problem.
But this was rare because Mrs. Cadwell had no discipline issues, or if she did, they weren’t known to me or my friends.
Of the many teachers I can recall over the years, she was a rarity because of the respect she engendered from students, even those who had never been in her classroom. She gave a lot and she expected a lot. And in her quiet way, it worked.
In recent days, I’ve visited with a number of her former students and their memories were the same as mine. One classmate, Bonnie Biskeborn Bartlett, recalled when she was working on the “Voice of America” poem for an oratory competition. She went to Mrs. Cadwell’s room for help with her delivery.
“She had the ability to make each person feel special, such a gift,” Bonnie told me. “She exuded confidence and patience with a gracious manner and smile. Somewhere there is a quote something like this: A person might not remember exactly what you did for them, but they will remember how you made them feel.”
And that was Mrs. Cadwell.
I am sure that many former students today are mourning her passing at age 92. Over the decades of teaching at Chamberlain High School, she left her unique mark on education that serves as a positive example of what a gifted public school teacher can achieve. And, consequently, her life’s work illustrated the critical importance of our public schools.
After she retired from teaching, Mrs. Cadwell continued to be active in her church and community. She and her husband, Darrel, owned and operated the marina restaurant on American Creek until it was flooded. Most local and area residents will recall her working at McDonald’s in Chamberlain and indeed, one of the best conversations we had was over coffee during a break in her shift. We talked about the town, her volunteer work, her family and former students, and of course, writing. I cherish the memory.
It’s one thing to benefit from a great teacher (I’m sad to report that as my years have grown, my Spanish has faded), it’s another to visit as one adult to another. Well, almost. I still called her Mrs. Cadwell. Though I was in my 60s at the time, referring to her as Charlotte never occurred to me. But our visits confirmed that she was the same outside the classroom as in – quiet and friendly, whose character of genuine caring connected her with students and the community at large.
In later years I saw this demonstrated often when she visited my father-in-law, Bob Winjum, who lived in a retirement home next door to her on Allcott Street. They had been neighbors during Bob’s many years as the town’s optometrist, and in a strange twist, the house south of Mrs. Cadwell’s was converted into a home for seniors. Her compassion for others was why she was a wonderful teacher and person.
And, it’s why she’ll not be forgotten.
Noel Hamiel is a retired newspaperman.