ST. PETERSBURG — Joanne Cogar, a career high school English and drama teacher, had exacting tastes and strong opinions.
An assertive — some would say intimidating — expert on American literature, she pushed her students to read Edgar Allan Poe, William Faulkner, Ernest Hemingway and Nathaniel Hawthorne and come up with specific and original insights.
Mrs. Cogar, who died Sept. 1 at 80, started her teaching career by default and taught 23 years at Boca Ciega and Lakewood high schools. She liked a glass of scotch, a long Pall Mall cigarette and a good book, and took her reading to bed with her by 8 p.m.
"Although the color came from a bottle, she was a fiery, temperamental redhead," daughter Linda Stachowicz told a funeral gathering Monday at Northside Baptist Church. "Her histrionics were legendary."
Mrs. Cogar ("Cogrrrr" to some students behind her back) could wither with a look or wound with a few well-chosen words. But students who did the work generally avoided her wrath.
"She had an attitude and was quick with wisecracks," said lawyer Bruce Howie, who had Mrs. Cogar for American literature at Lakewood. "But it was less out of cynicism and more as a mechanism for deflecting nonsense from students."
Nor did she put up with what she considered nonsense from her bosses. When an assistant principal called to tell her that her son, Richard, had been reading comic books in school, she said, "Thank God he's reading something; thanks for letting me know" and hung up.
Joan Rumney was born in Elizabethtown, N.Y., the only child of a phone company worker who had wanted a boy and thought "Joan" at least sounded a little like John. In the second grade, she announced that she had changed her name to Joanne.
She got a bachelor's degree from Heidelberg College in Tiffin, Ohio. Graduate work in English and drama at Stetson University, Florida State University and the University of South Florida led to a master's degree from USF in American literature.
She taught English and drama at Boca Ciega starting in 1957, directing numerous plays. By the early 1970s, she had moved to Lakewood, primarily teaching English.
A clash with an administrator she viewed as meddlesome led Mrs. Cogar to retire about 1980. By then, she was ready, her children say, although they do not know whether she was burned out or just tired. She enjoyed playing bridge, lavishing attention on her grandchildren, and traveling with her husband, Daniel, who died two years ago.
Stachowicz, an English teacher for the last 30 years at Osceola High School, credits her mother with pushing her into teaching.
"She told me, 'It's a lot of hard work. You can plan four hours for a 40-minute class.' "
Andrew Meacham can be reached at (727) 892-2248 or [email protected]