Step back in time for a moment and picture sunlight filtering through multipaned windows to illuminate a one-room schoolhouse, the dusty smell of chalk in the air, and rows of children's snow boots and winter jackets hanging near a snow-drifted doorway recently swept clear.
To us, that's a scene from a movie, but Elberta Pictor of Palm Harbor experienced it all.
The lifelong educator recently celebrated her 100th birthday at Tiffany's Restaurant in Palm Harbor, where she was presented with a cake and lots of well wishes.
She was born April 15, 1913, in West Liberty, Ill., to Agnes and Robert Hendry, farmers who also hailed from the same area of southern Illinois.
After graduation from high school in 1930, she enrolled at Eastern Illinois Teachers College in Charleston, Ill. With a year of college education under her belt, she was able to teach.
At the age of 18 she was hired as an elementary educator in one-room schools throughout Jasper County, Ill. Class began at 9 a.m. and ended at 4 p.m., with an hour for lunch and two 15-minute recesses.
In Illinois, January temperatures average about 25 degrees Fahrenheit. When heavy snowfall made roads impassable, Pictor would mount up and ride a horse to school. At one school situated near a creek, roles were reversed one chilly winter day when she became the student and allowed the children to teach her to ice skate.
Pictor enriched young lives for the next two years and then returned to college, attending Valparaiso University in neighboring Indiana.
In 1941 she married Raymond Pictor and resumed teaching in one-room schoolhouses in southern Illinois.
Back then the testing process was somewhat similar to today's FCAT. "When students finished eighth grade, they had to go to the county seat and take a very difficult test in order to go to high school," explained Pictor, who said she never had one fail.
Several years later the couple moved to Gary, Ind., where he was employed by U.S. Steel. She taught 18 years for the Lake Central School Corp. in Lake County, Ind., where the school's administration named her as an "Outstanding Teacher of America."
During their 47 years together, the couple lived in northern Indiana and Chagrin Falls, Ohio, while the educator continued her teaching career and graduated with a degree in education from Valparaiso.
Pictor relocated to Palm Harbor in 1995 to be near family. She has a son and daughter, seven grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.
Pictor may have started a trend. Her son, Robert Pictor of Palm Harbor, was employed as a professor of mass communication at Southern Illinois University, Carbondale, Ill. Three granddaughters are also educators: Rebecca Courtney teaches at Oldsmar Elementary; Melissa Traber is an instructor at West Lake Christian School, Palm Harbor; and Michelle Traber works as a teacher in Pasco County.
The self-sufficient centenarian's secret to a long life is keeping active and staying involved. She attends a tai chi exercise class, is interested in antiques and interior decorating, enjoys reading nonfiction history novels and stays in contact with out-of-state friends and relatives.
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Jessica Majeski was recently named an "Outstanding Volunteer" by Northwestern Mutual for her volunteer work with Clearwater's Chi Chi Rodriguez Academy.
"Jessica has always been a 'can-do' person and leader from the beginning," said Tom James, chairman of the board of the Chi Chi Rodriguez Youth Foundation.
Majeski will be entitled to present a $10,000 gift from the Northwestern Mutual Foundation to the academy for its mission of assisting at-risk children with their academic and personal life skills. She will also be recognized at the NWM annual meeting this summer.
Majeski, a member of the academy's board of directors, continues to mentor academy graduate Sean Fromme, a junior at Palm Harbor University High School. Majeski first met Sean when he was a middle school student needing some extra guidance. Sean now wants to attend college by earning a full golf scholarship.
"With one in three teens not graduating from high school, this gift will help us give many students the extra support services and relevant hands-on learning they need," said Cary Stiff, senior vice president at Chi Chi Rodriguez Youth Foundation.
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