Barbara Hammond, The Divine Miss “S”

Miss Elfrieda Shellenberger

When I made this collage for our previous article about students who became educators, I hit a snag. In searching the internet for the birth/death dates for these favorite teachers, I couldn’t find a date or obit for Miss Shellenberger. There is a reason for that – she hasn’t yet died! She’s 100 years old and still living in Wichita.

 

[NOTE: Skip to the last paragraph if you don’t have time to read the whole story]

Through the miracle of the internet, I found information about her career, plus contact information for one of her nephews, Jon Shellenberger, who agreed to chat with me on the phone and tell me about her. Pastor Shellenberger (Wellington Church of the Nazarene) told me he grew up in Wichita and knows his Aunt Elfrieda well. He and other family members visit her and occasionally she is able to come to his home in Wellington. Such was the case as recently as Thanksgiving dinner this year. She gets around with the use of a walker, as she doesn’t quite yet need a wheelchair.

Personal Life

Elfrieda Mae Shellenberger was born in 1920 to Grace and Vernon Shellenberger. She was the oldest of four children and they grew up in what is now Wichita’s North Riverside neighborhood. She attended North High School and was very active in school organizations (Glee Club, Chorus, Representative Assembly, Girl Reserves, Pep Club, International Club, Math Club, Allied Youth, and Junior Vice President). She was on the Honor Roll all three years. She graduated from North in 1938 (at right)

Having been brought up in a close-knit and devout family, she chose Bethany-Peniel College, a Church of the Nazarene school in Bethany, Oklahoma for higher education. Again, she was involved in many student groups including working as the Activities Editor on the yearbook and playing on the basketball team (fourth from left). She graduated in 1943 and went on to earn a Master of Arts degree in English at the University of Wisconsin.

She has been a member of the Church of the Nazarene since childhood. In college she was a member of Phi Delta Lambda, the international honor society of the colleges of the Church. Throughout her adult life she remained active in the Wichita church, singing in the choir, acting as Secretary to the Church Board, and as President of the Missionary Committee.

 

Professional Life

Miss Shellenberger began her high school teaching career in Whitewater, Kansas. She apparently had landed a fortunate position because she took part in a very ambitious project that was described in the Wichita Beacon on May 21, 1946. Captioned as “Whitewater Class to Tour East,” an article announced that “The senior class and their teachers will visit Kansas City, St. Louis, Lexington, Kentucky, Louisville, Washington, DC, Point Pleasant, New York City, Niagara Falls, Detroit, and Chicago. They plan to do some deep-sea fishing. Senator Arthur Capper will arrange a sightseeing trip for them in Washington. While in New York, they plan to stop for a short time at Hyde Park. The tour will be made by bus and a kitchenette on wheels will be taken along.” They were scheduled to return on June 13, 1946. This event marked the return of senior trips that had been suspended in 1942. 

In the early 1950’s, Miss Shellenberger was hired to teach English at Wichita High School East. She not only taught school, but also dedicated herself to professional activities that included acting as curriculum coordinator of secondary English for the Board of Education. This work involved managing ten committees of teachers in a two-year project to completely overhaul English teaching methods and subject matter in Wichita secondary schools. At the time we, as students, were unaware that our coursework was in the vanguard of her project.

Our Miss “S” – she had a keen eye. We experienced it first-hand.

Elfrieda Shellenberger attained national status when she was listed in Who’s Who of American Women, Fourth edition, 1966-1967 (Wilmette, IL: Marquis Who’s Who, 1965).  This directory serves to acknowledge “formidable women from diverse industries including education, business, the arts, and communications.”

Formidable. Rather a key word for her English students at East who didn’t mind their apostrophes or get their theme papers handed in on time. Fortunately for us, she was ensuring that we got a proper education.

Many of us in Class of ‘60 attest to how she influenced our studies and careers. In an email correspondence, her niece Becky Shellenberger of Wichita had this to say about her aunt. “In recent years I have come to learn that Elfrieda was very respected and very well-liked by students and other teachers. I believe she made her students learn in her classes. She always worked hard and never left any chore undone.” (Credit to Becky Shellenberger for sending the current photographs)

This news article illustrates that continuing effect on her students. (Wichita Eagle Dec 18, 1984)

In June 1986 Miss Shellenberger was among the many teachers that were honored at a reception marking their retirement. All their names were listed in the article, but she was the only one that the newspaper selected for a photo and interview.

               “Retirees: Emotions Mixed for Some”
                 (Wichita Eagle/Beacon, June 12, 1986)

When we knew Miss Shellenberger in the late 1950’s, she and her mother Grace shared a home at 1503 Kenmar Drive, built by her brother Robert, who was in the construction business. He built the Kenmar home for his young family in 1953 and brought Grace and Elfrieda to live with them. In a few years, Robert moved his family to another new home a couple of blocks away while Grace and Elfrieda continued to live on Kenmar. Grace died in 1994 at age 100; Robert Shellenberger died in 2018 at age 91. Elfrieda stayed in the Kenmar home until about eight years ago when she moved to Sedgwick Plaza, a senior living residence in Wichita.

Robert’s son Jon Shellenberger was generous with his time while he and I talked on the phone. He had many complimentary ways to describe his aunt.

About her personality, his first comment was, “Meticulous entertainer.” When she hosted the family at her house, everything (EVERYTHING!) was organized. She loved holidays and varied her Christmas tree themes year-to-year from traditional fir to imitation aluminum to a piece of driftwood spray-painted gold, and others.

She loved a pretty dining table and often would make clever little name tags according to her seating plan. Everyone sat at one long table. The nieces and nephews were careful in their conversations. They weren’t scared of her, but they knew that she would quickly correct their grammar if they spoke too casually. It would be, “Jon, you should say ….”

Her home was decorated with her collections of teacups with saucers and other pieces of fine china. Her flower beds were her pride and joy and she “persuaded” the nieces and nephews to do the digging when planting favorites such as tulips, zinnias, or roses. And speaking of chores, Jon recounts that many times, even well into his adulthood, she recruited them to help with spring cleaning throughout the house. For instance, she didn’t just clean the bedrooms, she had them take the beds apart, wipe everything down, and haul the slats out to the yard for a good hosing. And the windows! No spraying with a little bit of Windex for her. No, it was bucket, rags, and the hose. She would be watching. “Now Jon, be sure to get well into the corners.”  Did I mention organized? Meticulous? As Jon said, “She was a lady who made a list!” She never used a computer. He wasn’t sure if she even upgraded from a manual to an electric typewriter, but she would type up notes and “had file folders all over the place.”

Like her mother, Elfrieda was a conscientious letter writer. Up until two or three years ago, she would typically hand-write letters, and of course she sent thank you notes to Jon and his wife Cheryl for hosting her in their home.

When the nieces and nephews weren’t helping Aunt Elfrieda with chores, they could pass the visiting time looking through her Life magazines for which she had a lifetime subscription. She was always a diligent newspaper reader. She didn’t own a television until 1980, but in the 60’s and 70’s, she liked to come to Jon’s home on Saturday nights and watch “What’s My Line?” and “Candid Camera” with the family.

And how is our Divine Miss “S” doing now?
Jon Shellenberger says that she is happy and never complains. She attends a few entertainment occasions organized by Sedgwick Plaza, and she especially loves the community mealtimes and social gatherings on Sunday afternoons after church. Her health is generally good for her advanced years. She had a double mastectomy about 30 years ago and survived breast cancer. Now, her family is focused on helping her live out her life with as little stress as possible.  (At left: Jon and Cheryl Shellenberger with Miss Elfrieda, Nov 25, 2021)

 

I have saved the most important news for last.
Miss Shellenberger’s birthday is December 24! In just a couple of weeks she will turn 101 years old. Please join me in sending a blitz of birthday cards to her. It’s the perfect opportunity to make this birthday special for her. Jon assures us that she will love it.

Ok, rush out now and buy a birthday card – funny, sentimental, whatever. It doesn’t matter if you were not in any of her classes. Write a note or just sign your name. Add “East Class of 1960” to your signature. Recruit anyone that attended East before 1987 to send them too. Consider this your English assignment!

Mail cards to Elfrieda Shellenberger – Sedgwick Plaza, 2455 N. Woodlawn, Wichita, KS 67220.  

If you have a story to tell related to Miss Shellenberger or the impact of her teaching on you, please share with us by sending it to Diane at ddzinn@aol.com or Fred at elder@engr.wisc.edu. 

 

4 Comments
  1. Jane Thompson Olson 12 months ago

    What a wonderful story about a wonderful teacher!! I’m heading out to the Hallmark store to find the “perfect” birthday card. Miss Shellenberger is my all-time favorite teacher. What a gift she was to all of us who enjoyed her English Literature class!! When she came to my mother’s visitation service in 1987, I was thrilled to talk with her about the lit class memories. I also told her she was my favorite teacher of all time. In her dignified manner, she was pleased.

  2. Author
    Barb Hammond 12 months ago

    Thanks Jane, I’m hoping that a lot of people will read all the way to the bottom and find the birthday information – maybe I should have put it at the top!
    I’m sure she will love to get your comments in that perfect card.

  3. Gene 12 months ago

    Great narrative! Always fine to have affirmation that our mistakes are not eternal setbacks (North High, Wisconsin Badger? Regrettable). I found she had a quick wit which surprised me at times. Thanks, Barb. Grim time for birthdays.

    • Author
      Barb 12 months ago

      Thanks Gene. You do realize that none of us were responsible for where we attended high school. Just lucky for us that East offered her a job before North did! I would have liked to visit her for an interview, but you know. The Covid. Advanced age. Too risky. Darn.

Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*

The maximum upload file size: 50 MB. You can upload: image, audio, video, document, spreadsheet, interactive, other. Links to YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and other services inserted in the comment text will be automatically embedded. Drop file here

Copyright ©2022 Wichita East Class of 1960

CONTACT US

We're not around right now. But you can send us an email and we'll get back to you, asap.

Sending

Log in with your credentials

Forgot your details?