For the Metro Wire
Students, teachers, and staff returning to Washington School this fall have an opportunity to remember former teacher Ramona Weisbrod—and those who didn’t know Weisbrod can learn about her legacy.
The Weisbrod family, including P.J. Jacob’s Junior High School English teacher John Weisbrod, her son, donated funds to create a peaceful place of remembrance and regrouping with a bench, plaque and tree to honor Ramona, who spent nearly 20 years of her more than 38 years teaching at Washington.
“She was very pleased to be teaching at Washington,” John Weisbrod said. “She remembered everyone’s name, and she always asked about (former students). She had an unconditional love for her students. It was integrated into the fabric of who she was.”
Ramona (Rozek) Weisbrod was born in April 1926 and took her first teaching job in 1946. She taught during a time when many people did not complete the eighth grade. She had three older brothers, three older sisters and a younger sister, and grew up on farmland near Polonia. She and her siblings had a playhouse where they would spend time playing house, church, and school. Ramona so enjoyed playing a teacher, she set out to make it a career.
She worked and studied hard, graduated high school, attended post-secondary education including work at what is now University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, and by the time she was 20, she was in a classroom.
She met her husband, Clarence Weisbrod, in church when she was barely a teenager. They were wed when she was 21, and the couple had five children. It was a time when women who were pregnant were not allowed to work, so her early years were spent at a variety of different elementary schools including Edison School, Custer School, Nelsonville School, Amherst and Mosinee Schools.
In 1969, she took a job at Washington School, and it was there she found a home, just blocks from her family residence. She retired in 1988.
“There were good families in those rural schools,” she said in a memoir completed within the past couple of years. “I still have an album of pictures and class lists but mostly my teaching memories are in my heart. I enjoy meeting former students who say, ‘I remember when you were my teacher, Mrs. Weisbrod.’”
Ramona was so widely known and so widely respected as a teacher, people still recognize her name today, a treat for John.
When they’ve been out to dinner, John and wife Kathy, who is an educational assistant at Washington, often are approached by families to chat; in some instances, John has had the child in class and one of the parents was taught by Ramona.
“She had a positive, kind way of teaching,” that touched people and made a lasting impact, Kathy said. “That kind, gentle manner was just who she was.”
Ramona always encouraged education, within the family, in the community, and in her classroom. Clarence had received a high school diploma, then entered the U.S. Army and became an airplane mechanic. Though not educated in a classroom setting, Clarence, too, put an emphasis on learning, not just through encouragement but through actions, John and Kathy said. He was always seeking new information and learning about different things, they said.
Ramona often had student teachers in class, and the couple together would host suppers for teachers in residence, offering their home, family, and values in support of continuing the educational effort.
Family members followed suit, said John, who often attempted and continues to attempt to have student teachers accompany Kathy and him and/or family members at their home for dinner.
“Education is a big deal in the family,” said Anna Weisbrod, John’s daughter and Ramona’s granddaughter, who joins Stevens Point Area Public School District this fall as a speech/language pathologist to mark three generations of Weisbrod teachers in the district. “Every single child went on to college and all her grandchildren all have degrees.”
Three grandchildren have doctorates and three have masters, including Anna.
John remembered picking Ramona up at the end of the school day and being assigned “menial tasks” to help her transition from school to back home. He recalls meeting colleagues and students, and over the years he has come to know his mother in a broader sense of how she affected people and, through her teaching, her impact on education.
“Growing up, there were two things that were absolutes about my mother,” he said. “She was encouraging, always creating that encouraging environment and culture in her classroom, and she always saw the best in people, she had that unconditional love.”
It helped shape a number of teachers in the district, throughout Portage County and interestingly enough, circled back home.
One of Anna’s Suzuki instructors, when she was a child, was David Becker, whom Ramona had in class at Washington.
“I feel like Anna benefitted from Ramona through that,” Kathy said as Anna, who now owns the very home her father grew up in down the street, nodded and smiled next to her.
“It’s part of that legacy of teaching,” John said.
It’s not just the legacy of teaching, though. It is also the legacy of Ramona herself: A woman who cared about the educational system, who was strong enough to reach for dreams that were not common in her time, to make those dreams a reality and share her kindness, intelligence, encouragement, faith, and love with all whom she encountered.
“I’ve sat on the bench” that honors Ramona at Washington School, said John, who lives not even a block away. “They’ve done a good job creating a space that years from now can provide respite.”
“It’s been an interesting journey, one we’re actually very grateful to part of,” he said.
Ramona died in April 2017.