Peggy Gibbons, a second-grade teacher at Our Lady of Angels Elementary School in Cleveland, Ohio, for more than 40 years, celebrated the end of each school year by dancing on her desk.
What she had intended as a one-time expression of glee became a tradition. When Mrs. Gibbons retired from full-time teaching, her fellow teachers marked her last day by lining up in the hallway and doing a line dance to the song “New York, New York” as a tribute.
Her peers previously nominated her for an excellence in teaching award, and the Catholic Diocese of Cleveland named her Educator of the Year for 1992.
Mrs. Gibbons, who died Saturday, October 3, 2009, at the age of 68, devised many special tricks to get various points across to her pupils.
She placed a “Yak, Yak” bird on the desks of students who found it hard to stop talking. When she said, “Snow canyon,” her students knew to freeze, sit up straight and fold their hands without a word.
Mrs. Gibbons called herself "The tulip." It was easier for her to get the attention of second graders by telling them to ”Keep your eyes on the tulip” than to tell them to keep their eyes on her.
A lover of music and singing, she often made lessons more memorable and more fun by singing them. She also taught her students to speak Spanish and Japanese.
She made geography real to her second graders by having them write letters to one of her former students, who was a Jesuit seminarian in Africa. The exercise also helped her pupils learn social graces, while keeping her former student connected to Cleveland and entertained with some kids-say-the-darnedest-things letters.
After reading "Miss Nelson is Missing" to her classes, Mrs. Gibbons used the character of Miss Viola Swamp, a mean substitute teacher from the book, to keep her students in line. When students misbehaved, the beloved teacher would walk out of her classroom, then return as Miss Swamp. The youngsters ended up begging for Mrs. Gibbons to come back. At least one parent called the principal to ask about Miss Swamp, thinking she was a real person and not a recreated fictional character.
After retiring, Mrs. Gibbons herself became a substitute teacher.
She was born Margaret Ann O’Malley, the eldest of Gertrude and Robert O’Malley’s seven children. She graduated from St. Joseph Academy and St. John’s College in Cleveland, where she received a bachelor of science degree in education.
When she began teaching in 1963, she was known as Miss O’Malley. She spent one year teaching fourth grade and another instructing first-graders. She spent the rest of her career teaching second grade. She loved being responsible for training and preparing children for First Holy Communion.
She married Michael J. Gibbons, a Cleveland firefighter, in 1966. Mrs. Gibbons always spoke with joy about her children and grandchildren. She loved walking in the Cleveland Metroparks, especially Rocky River Reservation. She enjoyed ice skating with her husband. The pair performed a very elegant "couples skate" at Winterhurst Ice Rink in Lakewood, Ohio.
In addition to her husband, survivors include her children, Daniel (Wendy), of Utah, Mary Gulla (Andrew) and David (Jennifer); grandchildren, Patrick, John, Joe, Michael, Sarah, Olivia and Meredith Rose; and siblings, Neal (Mary), Janice Kurtz (David), Joyce, Gerry O'Malley-Ginley (James-deceased), Evan (Marsha), and Dennis (Mary) of California.
Funeral Mass was celebrated at Our Lady of Angels Church in Cleveland, on Thursday, October 8, 2009. Interment was at Holy Cross Cemetery. Arrangements were by McGorray-Hanna Funeral Home of Westlake, Ohio.
Family requests donations be made in her memory to Our Lady of Angels School, 3644 Rocky River Dr., Cleveland, OH 44111.
Read comments and condolences left on an online guestbook at Legacy.com/Cleveland.com.
Condolences also may be posted at http://www.mcgorray-hanna.com/.
This obituary was originally posted on ObitsOhio.com on Oct. 7, 2009.