PLANT CITY — Her family was driven from her native Russia by the Bolsheviks, and Olga Walden spent much of her childhood in the care of some French nuns, with her parents an ocean away in America.
She spent her last months in her Plant City home listening to Elvis Presley every single night.
In between, she taught several generations of children at Dover and Mango elementary schools.
Mrs. Walden died on Nov. 7 of natural causes, after a few years of declining health, her family said. She was just shy of her 95th birthday.
She was born in Odessa, Russia, and her father was an officer in the czar's army. After the Bolshevik Revolution, her parents left Russia and wandered through Europe trying to find a way to get to America.
After a few years they left Olga, only about 5 years old, at a boarding school in Cherbourg, while they moved to New Jersey. It was seven years before she saw her parents again.
"When she finally came here, she spoke French, but her parents spoke Russian," said her daughter-in-law Pamela Walden.
When she was a senior in high school, the family moved to Plant City. Her father wanted to be a strawberry farmer.
"She went to Plant City High School and met the love of her life," Pamela Walden said.
JV Walden and his bride became farmers in Plant City. In the early 1940s, Mrs. Walden started teaching at Dover Elementary. She taught there for 10 years and then at Mango Elementary for 30.
She had a passion for education that she instilled in her family. Several of her children and grandchildren are teachers in Hillsborough County schools, and one of her great-grandchildren is studying to become a teacher.
She also had a passion for learning, and even after she was well into her teaching career she studied at Florida Southern College, earning bachelor's and master's degrees in education. She and her husband would sell a cow every time tuition was due.
"She was an amazing woman," said her granddaughter Natasha Walden. "She spoke three languages. When I lived in St. Augustine, I would call her several times a week. We could talk for hours about anything and everything — how to solve the world's problems, politics, what was wrong with the education system, how the Gators looked in their football games."
Her husband passed away decades ago, but Mrs. Walden was surrounded by family until the day she died. Generations of the Walden family remained in Plant City, and Mrs. Walden was one reason they remained so close.
Even as her health started to go, Mrs. Walden's mind remained sharp, and she stayed at home, cared for by a nurse who became a close friend. They borrowed an Elvis Presley CD from a family member, and every night, just before bed, the two women would listen to Jailhouse Rock.
Besides her granddaughter Natasha, Mrs. Walden is survived by her son Dan, her grandchildren Suzanne Cribbs, Jay, Lauren and Beau Walden and great-grandchildren Joshua and Caitlin Cribbs.
Marty Clear writes life stories about area residents who have recently passed away. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.