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Zelma (Thomas) Rudolph

May 24, 1932 ~ April 27, 2018 (age 85)

Zelma Rudolph, 85, of Peru, passed away at 12:13 AM, Friday, April 27, 2018 at St. Vincent’s Hospital, Kokomo, IN. She was born in Sardis, AL on May 24, 1932, the daughter of Archie and Mariah Martin Thomas. Zelma married Hugh “Rudy” Rudolph in Selma, AL on December 30, 1961 and he preceded her in death on September 10, 2016. Zelma was a member of the Peru Church of the Brethren, Sigma Delta Pi Sorority, the Indiana State Teachers Retirement Association and the Miami County Teachers Retirement Association. Zelma received her Bachelor of Science Degree in Elementary Education in 1953 from Alabama State University and her Master’s degree in Education at Indiana University, Kokomo, IN. She was an Elementary teacher in the Peru Community School System from 1966 until her retirement in 1998. She is survived by daughters Merlene (Herman) Ellsberry, Birmingham, AL and Diane Burke, Montgomery, AL: her step-mother Annie Thomas, Sardis, AL, a sister Annie Arlene Thomas (Willie) Bullock Kokomo, IN; brothers Farrell (Mable) Thomas, Euclid, OH, Bennett (Ethel) Thomas, Selma, AL, McKenzie (Philippa) Thomas, Decatur, GA, Frederick (Sarah) Thomas, Euclid, OH, Ervin (Bettie) Thomas, Dallas, GA and Carl Thomas, Sardis, AL, a godson Shawn (Carmalita) Thomas, Kokomo, IN sisters-in-law Deola Gordon, Hudson, OH and Lola Rudolph, Garfield Heights, OH; brothers-in-laws Roosevelt (Carrie) Rudolph, Toledo, OH Aheart (Nora) Rudolph, Southington, OH and Henry (Barbara) Rudolph, Oakwood Village, OH and several nieces, nephews, cousins and friends. She was preceded in death by her parents, brothers Archie Thomas, Jr. and Jesse Thomas and a sister Bessie Thomas. A service celebrating the life of Zelma Rudolph will be held at 1:00 PM, Saturday, May 5, 2018 at the Peru, Church of the Brethren, 134 E. 5th Street, Peru, IN with Pastor Phil Cruea officiating. Graveside Services will be at the Marion National Cemetery at 1:00 PM, Monday May 7, 2018. Family and friends will gather from 4:00 – 7:00 PM, Friday, May 4, 2018 at the Peru Church of the Brethren. In lieu of flowers memorial donations may be made through the funeral home to the American Heart Association.

They buried my fifth grade teacher today

By David D. Clark

5 May 2018

I wasn’t prepared for it. I just turned sixty and I wasn’t ready. I hadn’t seen Mrs. Rudolph for over two decades. The last time I saw and talked to her was when I was hired as the high school principal of the school I struggled to grow up in, but did graduate from. She was with my sixth grade teacher and both wanted to congratulate me. Mrs. Rudolph spoke to me as I was going through a surrealistic moment, thinking about how far I’d come and how lucky I was. I heard her say how proud she was of me, but it wasn’t the words that stood out…it was the same infectious smile that took me directly back to the 1967-68 school year. I did not pass go, I did not collect two hundred dollars…but I landed squarely in my seat at Lincoln Elementary School. If I focus I can still look out the windows to see the tennis courts and the Thrush Building. I was looking up at Mrs. Rudolph as she stood by my desk. We were talking about an assignment and she was telling me how proud she was of me. I don’t recall if it was math or English, Social studies or science. It could have been Egyptian as far as I was concerned. It didn’t matter. I was not the smartest student by a long shot. There was and has never really been a debate about that issue. Most thought it was Beth; some thought it was Kevin. It could have been Teresa. But clearly, no one ever accused me of that. What mattered was this: for a few minutes, I was the most important student. I was the one out of the entire class that she genuinely cared about and was proud of. Being that student could change from moment to moment, as each of us in her sphere of influence felt the same power that emanated from her. That power spoke clearly to each of us in turn. That power said we could accomplish anything. It was consistent and it was genuine. How was she able to instill in each student that sense of “can do”? Only thing I can think of is that she loved every one of us. Being a thicker edge, intellectually speaking, I took joy in the other lessons Mrs. Rudolph taught. Lessons I understood because it reinforced what I had been taught at home. Lessons about how to treat each other and why that was important. Mind you, this was at the height of civil discord in America. Many were eager to tell you that they were the enlightened ones. They espoused values of looking out for yourself, treating others with disrespect, and if it felt good, then do it. At 10 years old, I knew they were wrong. My parents told me they were wrong. And Mrs. Rudolph showed me they were wrong. I have a couple memories of being in Mrs. Rudolph’s class that I have reflected upon again and again over the past fifty years. I want to share. My first memory is the first few days of school in the fall of 1967. This teacher had the greatest smile I’d ever seen. When students’ spoke, her eyes communicated that she was in wonderment and awe with everything that students shared about their summer vacation. At the end of the day, she gave us a peculiar assignment, one I would not understand for decades. But aren’t those the best lessons, the ones that are authentic and have value? She asked us to go home and describe our teacher. We were to describe her, to our parents. When a couple classmates switched classes shortly thereafter, I didn’t think much of it. In fact, it didn’t hit me until I was teaching a U.S. History class to a rural classroom in West Central Indiana that I began to understand that lesson. I was teaching a unit on the civil unrest in America in the 1960’s, a period of time that flipped most of the country from outward acts of service to inward pursuits of temporal goods. In this “time warp” of a moment, I realized that it was important to know who you are and to be proud of who you are. I realized that if I could not stand on my own two feet, then I would struggle to lift another in need. I recognized a twist on the golden rule: you should be up front with others and expect them to be just as transparent with you. I learned it is possible not to just live with differences but to see those differences as strengths. All that from one assignment, given to a boy many years before. I felt remiss for those students who switched classes and missed that lesson. I remember sharing with her about my weekend one Monday. My cousin and I had been riding our bikes down West Second Street when two boys, bigger, faster, and stronger than the two us, chased us into a field, knocked us off our bikes then jumped on us and refused to let us up. A moment of terror for us and a moment of fun for them. Mrs. Rudolph told me that forgiveness was essential in a person’s life. She made sure I understood every person would require a measure of forgiveness in their own life before it’s all over. She shared that the sooner a person learned that lesson, the better off they would be. Interestingly, decades later, the boy who intimidated the heck out of me would become someone I’m happy to call a friend. A lesson learned in the spring of 1968, taught shortly after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., by a mentor who wanted a better world for all. And wouldn’t you know it, she was right. Twenty six years later when a young man killed my father in law for $10, it took all the strength I had to hang on and to move on without hatred in my heart. For a few, another missed that lesson. Finally, I remember writing letters to her husband. He was serving his country in Vietnam. Students would write letters to him sharing the most mundane Midwestern happenings and asking the simplest questions with a naïve notion about war and violence that, for the most part, escaped them. The best part was… he wrote back. We went to war and he got to come home, even it was just for a brief moment. In our adventures, I hope he found some healing. Our classroom became a community as we built bridges instead of walls. The lessons we learned…. Well, they were something special and I felt remiss for those students who switched classes and missed that lesson. Today, they buried my fifth grade teacher. Hindsight being 20/20 reminds me that I didn’t spend enough time with the important things in life. I heard a few years ago that we should not allow the things that matter least, get in the way of the things that matter most. Why didn’t I listen? No, why didn’t I act upon that saying? I didn’t get a chance to tell her this. I should have. So now, I’ll have to say goodbye to my fifth grade teacher by recommitting to living the lessons I learned 50 years ago. I’m going to live my life with more wonderment and awe. I’m going to judge less and care more. I’ll forgive as I want to be forgiven. I’ll share more hope and healing while minimizing the hurt that comes from ignorance. And I’ll listen to my heart so I can recall any other lessons she taught that I’ve yet to learn.

Thank you Mrs. Rudolph and if you’re looking in from time to time, I hope I still make you proud.

David D. Clark,

Principal Columbus North High School

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