April 09, 2020

Retired teacher recalls her not so ordinary life

Former Brewer educator helped many students

Marjorie Jenkins claims to have lived an ordinary life. But that just seems to be her way – unassuming and perhaps unaware of the impact her life has had on the hundreds of students who passed through her classroom at Brewer High School, where she taught English and Latin for 39 years.

“I started teaching at Brewer High in 1933 but had to leave in 1939 because I got married,” said Jenkins. “There was a ban on female married teachers then. It was a rule. I went back to teaching in 1943 after the ban was lifted.”

And then she made her mark.

“I loved teaching, I think because I love the young people,” said Jenkins, 96. “I missed them the most when I retired. And I was very proud of Brewer High. We had one of the three best English departments in the state.” No surprise. Jenkins was head of the English department and the adviser to Se Beowulf, a club for girls who excelled in English.

But teaching was always more than a job; it was a lifelong love for Jenkins.

“Even as a child, I wanted to be a teacher and when we played school, I had to be the teacher or I wouldn’t play,” she said, a look of twinkling determination in her eyes that the other children probably saw just before agreeing to her demands.

Born Marjorie Mooers in 1909 in Woodstock, New Brunswick, “just over the Houlton line,” she crossed that line at one year old. After moving around a bit, the family settled in Bangor. Jenkins graduated from Bangor High School in 1927, then attended the University of Maine in Orono, receiving her Latin degree in 1931.

Those were tough years in the nation, but as with most other things, Jenkins was unfazed.

“The Great Depression really didn’t change my college life at all,” she said. “It really didn’t make my life any different.”

But her life did change in 1939 when she met William Jenkins through a mutual friend. They married a short time later. It was a mixed blessing, however, due to the ban on married women being teachers. Still, she made good use of her time away from the school. In 1940, her son, William, now a physician at Family Practice in Millinocket, was born.

“I am very proud of my son,” she said. “He was Maine’s Family Doctor of the Year in 1998. He really cares about other people and everybody loves him. He and his wife, Leslie, are just wonderful to me. And I have two grandsons, one at Stanford University and the other is in South Africa.”

Jenkins was a working mother and continued to teach, even while earning her master’s degree in English from the University of Maine in 1956.

“There is more pay with an advanced degree,” she said, as though counseling a student contemplating college.

Jenkins’ love for the teaching profession and for her students lives on – as does her legendary passion. Recently, a group of Brewer High School alumnifrom the Class of 1956 dropped by her home and presented her with a black fleece throw emblazoned with a Brewer witch. She was delighted with this 50th anniversary commemorative blanket.

And Jenkins, widowed in 1989, still enjoys younger people and remains involved with hobbies.

“I have a neighbor who’s 90 who comes over every afternoon and plays cards with me,” she said. “I also belong to the Brewer Garden and Bird Club and the Monday Afternoon Club, which is a literary club. Every member is responsible for a program, most of which are concerned with books.”

And then there is her good friend, Jean Lyford, one of Jenkins’ fans.

“She’s a wonderful person,” said Lyford, 83. “We have teaching in common, in fact, she was my teacher.” They always find something to talk about, including politics and current events, she added.

“Like I said, I’ve had a very ordinary life but a good life,” said Jenkins. “Now I just lead a quiet life.”

Quiet except for her clubs, friends and activities.

Carol Higgins is director of communications at Eastern Agency on Aging. For information on EAA, call 941-2865, e-mail info@eaaa.org or log on www.eaaa.org. TTY 992-0150.

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