DODEA teacher reunites with favorite educator from childhood

DODEA teacher reunites with favorite educator from childhood

by Dave Ornauer
Stripes Okinawa

Back in September, Tracy Rice, a language instructor at Kadena Elementary School on Okinawa, was quick to answer the question: Who’s the teacher that’s had an impact on your life?

At the time, Rice was taking part in a discussion at the Teacher Leadership Summit at Department of Defense Education Activity headquarters in Arlington, Va.

“Ms. Hobson was mine. My favorite DODEA teacher,” she said of Annie Louise Hobson, her fifth-grade teacher at Spangdahlem Elementary School, Germany, in the late 1970s.

“You know her, too?” chimed in Linda Curtis, in September the deputy director and associate director of academics. “Small world. I’d be happy to connect you both.”

Rice was a pupil of Hobson’s during the 1977-78 school year, right as Hobson arrived for what became a 22-year stint at Spangdahlem.

Curtis became the school’s assistant principal in 1989, her second DODEA assignment, and said she got to know Hobson well during her time there.

Once the two realized their connection with Hobson, Curtis put Rice – who was at the summit as DODEA-Pacific’s South District Teacher of the Year for 2020 – in touch with Hobson.

Hobson retired after her years at Spangdahlem and lives just outside of Greenville in western Georgia, about 90 miles from Rice’s home of record, Warner Robins, and about 95 miles southwest of Atlanta.

Rice and Hobson talked by phone while the former was at the leadership summit and the two promised to meet as soon as it was possible.

Fast forward to July 5, a sultry, sunny west Georgia day. Rice and her family drove up Interstate-75 and across State Route 74 from Warner Robins to Greenville, where they reunited with Hobson and her husband, Ed, and spent the day catching up after not having seen each other since 1979.

“We just picked up where we left off. I could sit and listen to her stories for hours,” Rice said. “I’m very humbled. This is such a unique experience.”

“She’s very verbal, very outgoing, but still the same little girl who’s gone a little further in her life,” said Hobson, who will be 85 in November.

Hobson taught at Spangdahlem for 22 years before retiring to her house and farm just outside of Greenville. The property has been in her family for 90-plus years.

Ed, her husband, is a retired chief master sergeant who was stationed at Spangdahlem for seven years. He worked at the school for 15 years after hanging up his Air Force blues.

“She was a wonderful teacher,” Curtis said of Hobson. “She helped the children in a variety of ways.”
Rice has a home in Warner Robins, but has never married, adopting two children along the way.

Her adopted son, Eric, graduated from Kadena High School in 2009 and her adopted daughter, Cathy, will be a sophomore there this school year.

At Kadena Elementary, where she’s been since 2007, Rice teaches what today is called English Speakers of Other Languages – formerly English as a Second Language – for kindergarten through fifth-grade pupils.

It was assisting a second-grade pupil with reading that Rice says planted the seed that made her want a career as a teacher.

“I was one of those kids who would finish things rather quickly, so [Hobson] found activities for me,” Rice said. “And one of those activities was to tutor a second-grade student.”

Hobson described Rice as “gung-ho” about learning and staying on task, “getting the job done efficiently, but also very well,” she said, adding that as a teacher now, Rice has “just continued that same line.”

As a class at Spangdahlem, Rice and her fellow pupils were also tasked with writing the script for a puppet version of “Hansel and Gretel.”

One of the mementos that Rice brought with her for Sunday’s visit was the papier-mache puppet of the father that she made for the play. She also brought a Nativity scene from the Philippines; Hobson and her husband collect those and have them on exhibit in Greenville’s community center.

Rice said she wasn’t sure which Hobson would like better, the puppet or the Nativity scene. It turned out, she liked both.

“The Grimms might not have recognized it,” Hobson said of the puppet. “But it’s great going down memory lane.”

As the Georgia afternoon sun set, the Rices parted with the Hobsons and headed back to Warner Robins with plans to visit again and again.

“She invited us to stay the night on our next visit,” Rice said. “Who knows what the two of us may collaborate on next? An inspirational book?”
Twitter @DaveOrnauer

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