A surprise scholarship changed her life. Now, she’s passing on the blessings.
BY ROBIN CHENOWETH
It came from nowhere. In 1948, Wanda Neeley Coldiron learned she received a scholarship for which a teacher applied on her behalf. Before graduating from high school, she had contemplated being a secretary, staying in her hometown of Fremont, Ohio, and living with her parents.
But that one scholarship changed everything. Coldiron would study in the College of Education at Ohio State, become a teacher and find love in Germany while combining her passions of travel and teaching.
“My friend said coming to a college will completely change our lives,” she said. “And she was right. It really broadens you so much.”
Even in the 1940s, Columbus was a portal to the world. Coldiron lived in Neil Hall and worked at a nearby drugstore making milkshakes.
She loved that her professors could recite children’s literature unrehearsed. She student-taught at a nearby school, joined campus groups and made lifelong friends. A gang of them piled into a car to drive to the Pacific Ocean during a school break.
After graduating in 1952, she taught in the Riley Township elementary school where she had attended. True to her education, she took particular joy in opening up the world of reading to young children.
“Elementary school teachers play a critical role in fostering that lifelong learning in the early years — teaching kids not to be discouraged” when learning becomes difficult, she said.
In the ’50s, California offered good pay to qualified teachers. So when Coldiron and a friend were asked to teach there, she gave in to wanderlust and struck out for the West in her yellow Ford convertible. They journeyed along Route 66 to La Jolla, California, where they taught school during the day and enjoyed the sights of southern California and the Pacific in their off-hours. The setting was paradise to a young woman who had grown up in northern Ohio.
But she wanted to see Europe, and not just for a week or two. When the government recruited teachers for Army dependent schools in Worms, Germany, she signed up for a one-year tour.
My friend said coming to a college will completely change our lives. And she was right. – Wanda Coldiron
On her first day in Europe, an Army first lieutenant spotted her — a lonesome- looking, blue-eyed blonde who was having second thoughts about being there. Three months later, she and Arnie Coldiron were engaged.
They married back in the States. He went into plastics manufacturing when the market was new; she continued teaching until they had two children.
Looking back, she can see the value of one, small scholarship. “It was providential,” she said. She wants to give someone else the same chance she had.
So, she has established a scholarship that will pay undergraduate tuition plus room and board for college freshmen from Fremont’s Ross High School. Recipients must have a high school GPA of 3.5 and study or plan to study kindergarten through fifth-grade education.
If she hadn’t gone to Ohio State, she’d still be happy. “But there have been so many friends, and so many places that I wouldn’t have seen.” Then looking at Arnie, she added, “And I wouldn’t have met you.”