By Virginia Zuck, Times-Union Feature Writer
Miss DeVere Brant, Winona Lake, called "the best teacher in all the world" by her first grade pupils in the Atwood school, is the Kosciusko County Federation of Clubs' candidate in a national Teacher Award contest.
A native of the Milford community, Miss Brant is now rounding out her 38th year as a teacher. She's well along in her second generation of pupils. Her county superintendent, Glen Whitehead, estimates she has loved, taught, disciplined and guided more than 1,200 children.
Recently Mrs. Robert English of Pierceton, president of the Kosciusko Federation, issued a call for "best teacher" nomination. Miss Brant's name was submitted by four organizations, the Leesburg Literary, Martha Washington, Cosmopolitan and E.S. O. Literature clubs. A few days ago the Federation committee selected Miss Brant as most outstanding in a field of five candidates.
A brochure on her career and a photograph were submitted to the district contest chairman in Goshen. Each district makes it's choice by March 1, then forwards its candidate's papers to the state club headquarters. The General Federation of Women's Clubs will, at a national convention in Detroit, Mich., June 2-6, honor three finalists from all those submitted by the 48 state federations, the District of Columbia, Alaska and affiliated clubs abroad.
Miss Brant's influence extends far beyond her own county to teachers who were her students in a Junior college in the deep south and children they teach; to colleagues in distant part of the world; to educational projects sponsored by the Indiana Business and Professional Women's Clubs.
Surveying the scope of her career, one might expect Miss Brant to be a human dynamo. She is, however a rather small woman, with a quiet, serene manner and warm, friendly smile. At first you might not even notice that she wears braces on both legs.
When she was about a year old and beginning to walk, Miss Brant was stricken by polio. Little was known about treatment of the disease in those days and that little was tried to no avail. Left with one leg totally disabled, she had to crawl or be carried from one place to another.
Her seventh year was a momentous one. A fort Wayne surgeon severed the heel tendons and "Plunk" Kleckner, a Warsaw blacksmith, fashioned an iron brace for her.
The brace was ugly and heavy, but it gave her a freedom she had never had. Now she could play ball with the other children, ride a bicycle and even roller skate. In later years lighter braces were found. Her right leg, the weight bearing one, gave out and had to be supported by a brace also.
In 1920 when his daughter was graduated from Warsaw high school, Otto Brant paid #20 for 12 weeks tuition at Winona Normal, then an extension of Indiana university.
In those days many men and women taught in the elementary grades during the regular term, taking college credit courses each summer. When she started normal school, Miss Brant had dreams of qualifying someday as a high school English instructor. She was quite annoyed when a schedule conflict landed her in a class on primary teaching methods, but soon found it so interesting she changed her career objectives.
Summer ended, she had just had her 18th birthday and was eager to start teaching. She couldn't get a license in Indiana until she had some experience so she sold her pony and used the proceeds for train fare to Oklahoma. There folks thought highly of her 12 weeks of teacher training and offered her a new one-room building at White Rock, near the oil fields. (The old structure had been destroyed in a cyclone.
Not an easy post
There were five regular pupils with others occasionally from transient families. Miss Brant was enthusiastic about her job, her children and life in the west. People were hospitable and respected her competence. It wasn't an easy post, but she didn't really mind the red clay soil that stuck to the floor like bubble gum or th ehating stove that blew off its lid when she was fixing the fire.
At the end of the term her superintendent, Mrs. Sarah J. Hoover, wrote a fine recommendation citing Miss Brant as "a lady of strong personality, well qualified as a teacher."
Miss Brant had no money worries when she rode away in a buckboard wagon headed for the nearest railroad town. She had saved $350, most of her pay. The train was a local freight and Indians were among her fellow passengers in the caboose.
Home again and after another session at normal school, Miss Brant was offered a chance to teach Latin in a Presbyterian school in Salt Lake City. It was a tempting opportunity, but at her parents' urging, she applied for and got a job at Clunette in Prairie township. The primary teacher there had married and therefore was ineligible to teach.
Goes to Clunette
Clunette had a three room school and some years Miss Brant taught the first four grades. For $75 she ought a little Ford roadster with side curtains. Sturdy and reliable, it always got her to school though roads through the marshes were frequently flooded.
It also permitted her to resume piano lessons, first with Jesse McDonald, who played in a Warsaw movie theater, then with Miss Jennie Frasier, of Warsaw, Miss Maude Snyder, Mentone, and also at the Fort Wayne Conservatory.
Before long Miss Brant was giving private piano lessons to several pupils. She also became quite skillful on the accordion and often performed at club and civic programs.
Each summer Miss Brant returned to the Winona campus or went to Manchester college for work toward a degree. In 1931 the state of Indiana awarded her a lifetime license as a primary teacher. She accumulated 112 credits toward the required 144 for a degree, but in later years she concentrated on course in music and art which were of special interest.
Miss Brant taught at Clunette 19 years. Time brought changes to the community. It was finally decided in 1940 to close the school and send pupils to Atwood. Miss Brant went along, and 18 years later, is still teaching there.
Her classroom in the new addition is a delightful one to visit. One sees the children happily intent on following the road to learning with a teacher they love.
If activities get a bit noisy, a little bell sounds and quiet results. It's usually a different bell each week, one of 76 in her collection from around the world. She also has 85 dolls who represent characters in the first grade rader or story books. Many others are dressed in costumes typical of different regions in the North American continent and foreign countries.
If a child finds it difficult to quiet down, he is asked to sit in the "good" chair, a special one in a corner but this is drastic treatment.
Miss Brant has traveled extensively, Friends who accompany her on expeditions over the United States, to the Maritime Provinces of Canada, Mexico and the West Indies, claim she goes primarily to take pictures, collect items and information for her pupils. These souvenirs and the stories she brings back stimulate the children's interest in the world, expand their horizons, deepen their understanding of people in other places.
Through the years, Miss Brant's philosophy has been: "Getting a child to like school is half the battle. If he has a good start, if his interest in books, writing and numbers is properly kindled., if he learns to work and play peaceably with his classmates, accept responsibility and discipline, he will be a happier child and eager to learn."
School has centered Miss Brant's life for 50 years, first as a pupil, then as a teacher. Occasionally she gives some thought to retirement but she really wants to go on teaching. That's likely to be quite a while. When her pupils' younger brothers and sisters come visiting they confidently make reservations for a particular desk or little red chair against the great day when they too have Miss Brant for a teacher.
In five huge scrapbooks are notes from her children, crayon drawings, program folders, letters from parents expressing appreciation for all she has done. There are newspaper clippings about former pupils who've married, served in the armed forces, and earned recognition in community life.
Some of the momentos are from Mary Holmes Junior College in West Point, Miss., a Presbyterian-sponsored school for Negro students. Miss Brant gave six summers there, instructing men and women who were trying to become better teachers. She still visits her students as often as possible and she send the teaching aids, craft patterns and other items.
Miss Brant is, of course, a member of the Indiana State Teachers Association and attends all its sessions. She is a past president of the Warsaw Business and Professional Women's Club and serves on a permanent committee for scholarships awarded each year to young people of the county.
For some time she was state chairman on education and vocations for the Indiana BPW. She is active in Cosmopolitan club and currently treasurer of the Warsaw-Winona Council of Women's Organizations, a streamlined replacement for the city federation.
Members of the Atwood high school class of 1953 dedicated their annual, The Greyhound, to Miss Brant, who had been their teacher in the first two grades. There is another Atwood publication, The Wee Greyhound. It's a stencilled news sheet which reports solely on first grade activities. The editor-teachers, assisted by an eager staff, lists the highlights of the month and the slogans they emphasized "Be On Time," "Don't Be a Whiner," "Use Plenty of Soap and Water," "Always Tell the Truth." One may also find "bright sayings' credited to a fictitious Mary and Johnny to avoid embarrassing the real-life pupils.
To quote again from Superintendent Whitehead's letter: "As Miss Brant's principal for nine years and her superintendent for 12, I have never heard a breath of criticism concerning her. Her children lover her, her patrons respect and admire her, her co-workers and officials enjoy associations with her.
"Miss Brant's room is always interesting and attractive with seasonal decorations. There is always a vitalizing project in progress, entertaining and educative, adapted to the primary children."
Ask Kenneth Parks, now in his seventh year as trustee of Prairie township, what he thinks of Miss Brant and his answer is: "She's tops in the classroom and tops in her field. Very seldom does sh miss a day and generally she is on hand for all the school programs at night. An unusual individual and extremely competent. Her classroom is a happy one." Parks has known Miss Brant since he was in the second grade at Clunette.
He doesn't happen to be a former pupil of hers. They are legion and she is always running into them her and there. When an apparent stranger greets her as Miss Brant, she knows he is one of her children who has matured beyond recognition. Close friends always her as DeVere.
Parent Commends Her
Mrs. Russell Creighton, Route 5, has given permission to quote from a letter she wrote to Miss Brant eight years ago. It sums up what most parents say: "I've always wanted to tell you I've been so happy that Marilyn, Bobby and David have had the privilege of having you as their first teacher you've given them all a fine startand I appreciate it no end.
"You have a personal interest in every pupil. You sense individual qualities in children, seek out their good-points instead of their faults, and praise them whenever you have the slightest reason. You are tops in my mind and I hold the highest respect for you."
Small wonder that Miss Brant was selected as the county's most outstanding teacher.
OBITUARY: DeVere F. Brant
Funeral services for Miss DeVere F. Brant, 70, of 111 Third St. Winona Lake, will be conducted at 1 p.m. Friday at McHatton-Sadler Funeral Home. The Rev. Peter Pascoe will officiate and interment will be in the Leesburg cemetery.
Miss Brant died of complications following an illness of one month at 4:15 a. m. Tuesday at the Murphy Medical Center. A lifetime resident of Warsaw, she was born August 25, 1902 to Otto and Belle (McGowen) Brant.
Miss Brant was a retired school teacher, teaching at Atwood prior to retirement. She was a member of the Winona Lake Presbyterian Church, the Warsaw Business and Professional Women's Club; the Winona Literary Club, Indiana State Teachers Association, Indiana Retired Teachers Assoc., and the National Retired Teachers Association.
One brother, James Brant, of Fort Wayne, and Several nieces and nephews survive.
Friends may call at the McHatton-Sadler Funeral Home from 2-4 and 7-9 p.m. Thursday and until the hour of the service on Friday.
Warsaw Times-Union December 6, 1972
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