Milking cows before school may have had little direct bearing on what Gloria Wilber taught in the classroom. However, this chore she did during portions of her career speaks volumes about the philosophy of the retired family and consumer sciences teacher.
In her mind, everyone should help at home, whether it be with household tasks or cooking dinner.
“I always believed that when everyone chips in you have happier families,” Wilber said.
Wilber retired last week after teaching in Canton since 1983. In all she spent more than 35 years in the classroom teaching many practical skills.
Since graduating from Western College for Women in Ohio in 1969 and going on to teach in the state’s Regional 6 and 7 school districts before taking some time off with her children, Wilber has seen a lot of changes.
Back then, many still believed the kitchen was still a woman’s place and the home economics students reflected that.
In the past several years the balance in culinary classes has gone from nearly all women, to a mix, to a trend toward more boys than girls, propelled even more by celebrity chef shows on television.
“I’ve seen the evolution,” Wilber said.
While the Family and Consumer Sciences Department has shrunk since she started and fewer classes are offered overall, it’s also grown in some ways — especially with the state-of-the art kitchen facility that came with high-school renovations several years ago. It's the perfect place to teach courses such as Culinary 1, Culinary II and Catering and an 8th-grade Family and Consumer Science experiential.
Child development has also been a staple for Wilber over the past few years.
Through the years, she’s taught numerous other courses to kids in 7th through 12th grade, including nutrition, family living, economics, interior design and Spanish, her college minor.
“I taught it all — whatever came along,” she said.
Wilber approached every task, from classes to receptions to catering special events, with that attitude, according to high school principal Gary Gula.
“I, in particular, will always value your hard work and your can-do spirit,” he wrote in a letter type speech recently read at an event honoring retirees and long-time staff.
That’s carried through in all aspects of her life,
In 1974 when her first child was born, Wilber took eight years off from teaching. She eventually had three children and kept busy on the family’s 50-acre dairy farm and performing numerous other tasks.
In the 1980s, she began substitute teaching and worked in Torrington for a short time before coming to Canton.
As she prepared for retirement, she was ready for the next stage of her life but said she will miss teaching.
She was especially struck by so many kind words from students.
“That sort of pulls at you,” she said. “I love what I do. I think I had the best job when it comes to teaching.”
Canton High School graduate Krista Westerling took Culinary I and Culinary II and Child Development with Wilber.
“She is a wonderful teacher who brought fun as well as seriousness into the classroom,” Westerling said. “She will be missed.
In another portion of his letter Gula wrote, "You are not a complicated person, but you are extraordinary in ordinary ways . . . Respect has always been your mantra and it has been reflected in the way students interact with you. They genuinely care for you and enjoy learning from you."
Wilber was Canton’s teacher of the year in 2003 and a runner-up on the state level.
She also continued learning herself, earning a Master of Science in Nutrition and Resource Management from St. Joseph College in 1987.
Wilber hopes her successor takes the program to the “next level” and involves local restaurants, competitions and locally grown food into the culinary program
For herself in retirement, her and husband George plan to do some traveling, visiting a daughter in San Francisco. Wilber would also like to go to Alaska and London.
She’ll also have some time to pursue hobbies such as gardening and knitting.
Wilber plans to sleep in a little — likely getting up at 6:30 a.m. instead of 4:30 a.m. She still enjoys living on the farm but is happy to leave the chores to her son Duncan.
“At this stage in my life, I need to smell the roses,” Wilber said.