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Tribute Prepared by Karen Dellinger Bouldin

 

Opal Richee Dellinger at age 96 is one of Gleason’s oldest life-long  residents.  Opal was born in Gleason at home on College Street and has lived on that street all of her life, although she has lived in three different houses.  She was born on January 31st, 1917, to Mattie Wray Richee  (1880-1963)  and Alton Monroe Richee (1877-1939).

 

She was the youngest of three children.  Her brother was Vernon Richee  (1908 -1996) and her sister was Rubye Richee Taylor (1911 -1998).  Their father Alton Richee was a merchant and part owner of Richee Brothers and Parks, a general store that sold everything from dry goods to groceries.  The store stood at the corner of College Street and Front Street with the main entrance  facing  Gleason  School.

 

One of Opal's fondest memories of the store was getting to look into the big glass front candy case and choose candy that was in individual glass containers.  She enjoyed sampling the candy there at the store and then selecting  her favorites to put in a brown paper sack  to carry home.     She continues to eat at least one piece of candy or chocolate each day and believes that doing so has helped her have such a long life.

 

She also tells that when her father, "Papa",  would walk home from the store for lunch, he would often bring  a small block of ice held together by a brown wool rope for their iced tea.  On summer days,  much of the ice melted before he could get home.  Lunch was a special  part of the day for the family to be together and enjoy the delicious meal that “Mama”  had prepared for them.  During her childhood, relatives and neighbors frequently visited on front porches on warm evenings.  They enjoyed sharing desserts and ice tea and talking about the news of the day.  The children were happy and busy playing  games such as  hide-and-seek, tag,  kick the can,  jump rope,  roller skating,  and marbles.  These activities were a part of life and filled many summer  days and evenings.

 

The Richees were members of the Gleason Cumberland Presbyterian Church and Opal became a Christian and  joined the church in 1926.  Opal was blessed with the talents of music and teaching.  She served as pianist for the church and taught a Sunday school class for children while she was in high school.  Opal attended school at Gleason.  She liked school and her teachers and classmates.  She was well liked too and was a class officer and a member of the Music Club.  She especially enjoyed the trips when Miss Reba Oliver took the Music Club to the Oliver Family Cabin on the Harpeth River near Nashville.  Opal graduated from Gleason High School in 1934 and continued her education at Bethel College for two years (Fall 1934 - Spring 1936).  At that time one could begin teaching after completing  two years of college.  Opal's first teaching  job was at Peace and Harmony School, two miles south of Gleason.   The school had grades 1 - 8 and "Miss Opal" taught grades 1 - 4 and had 21 students in her class.   She drove the family car to Peace and Harmony when the weather was nice, but when the weather became bad and the roads impassable by car, she walked the two miles to school.  During the cold winter weather, Opal stayed close to the school with Herbert and Vera Wray and their children.  Mr. Herbert was a cousin of Opal's mother.  Opal always talked about the delicious country meals and hot biscuits that Miss Vera cooked.

 

Opal continued to teach at Peace and Harmony  for two years but declining enrollment forced a change so she taught at another rural school, Shady Grove,  for the l941-42 school year.  She had 20 students in her  1st  through 4th  grade class.  A teaching position opened up in town  at the Gleason School and Miss Opal began teaching there in August of 1942.  She taught a fourth grade class for several years until a second grade class became available.

 

On September 2, l945, Opal Richee married Ray Dellinger.  Ray was returning to his hometown of Gleason after serving his country in the U.S. Army during  World War II.  Ray saw combat service in North Africa and Italy where he received the Purple Heart.  He completed his Army service in Niagara Falls, NY.  One year after their marriage their only child Karen was born.  Opal stayed home to care for the new baby for two years (until August 1948) when she began teaching again at Gleason Elementary School.  During the school day while her mother was teaching, Karen stayed with her Grandmother Richee who lived  only two houses away.  When Karen was old enough to start school, she was in her mother's  1st and 2nd grade classes and loved it.  Opal continued to go to Bethel College and took classes at night and in the summer.  She graduated from Bethel in June 1953 with a Bachelor of Science in Education degree.

 

For most of her teaching career, Miss Opal taught first or second grade or an overflow class made up of first and second graders.  In the 1950s,  many classes had 30 - 35 children  and during her  34-year teaching career she taught almost one thousand students.   Miss Opal loved teaching and loved "her children" and  she was loved and respected by them.  Her favorite activity was teaching the children to read.  She always said that teaching children was  "the best job in the world" and  considered it her calling , her mission in life.   She enjoyed teaching and did it well.  She cared deeply about others and wanted each child to feel loved.   It continues to give her great pleasure when former students  say something sweet about their experiences in her classes so long ago and to send her cards and flowers on her birthday or at Christmas.

 

 

 Miss Opal retired in May of 1974  when  her husband Ray retired from the elected office of General Sessions and Circuit Court Clerk of Weakley County.  During her teaching and retirement years,  Opal also served her church, the Gleason Cumberland Presbyterian Church, as pianist, Sunday School teacher, summer Bible school teacher, CPW leader, and deacon then elder.  She and Ray, who was also a deacon then elder, led the youth ministry for the church for many years.

 

Opal was also a compassionate caregiver during her active years.  Opal and Ray built an addition to their house in l959 and Opal’s mother moved in with them, staying there until Mrs. Richee’s  death in February l963.   She also did much for her sister, Rubye Taylor,  for over 30 years following the death of Rubye’s husband, Doc, in 1963 and their 19-year old son, Ronnie, in 1965.  Rubye died at age 88 on September 20, 1999.  Opal’s  husband, Ray, was diagnosed with cancer in 1973 and was in and out of remission until January of 1980 when his cancer returned.  Opal cared for him at home that year until he died on December 29, 1980.

After Ray's death, Opal became even more active in the Cumberland Presbyterian Women (CPW)  and was honored with the Lifetime  Member award.  She was also very active in the Gleason Woman's Club,  held several offices and served as its president two different terms.  She was  an active member of the Weakley County Democratic Women and the Retired Teacher's Association and served as an officer in each organization.

 

Opal was happy and busy in her retirement years.  She loved to be outside when the weather was nice and she could work in her yard and flowers.  She also enjoyed her cats and seeing that they were taken care of  and well fed.  Spending time with her brother, Vernon and his wife Lucille,  and  her sister Rubye  was important to her. Over the years she enjoyed visits with her daughter, Karen, son-in-law,  Donald Bouldin, and grandson, Andrew,  who was born in 1985.  She was able to visit them even more frequently after they moved to Brentwood.

Opal continued to be active in the things she loved until May 2008  when it began to be difficult for her to maintain her independence and live alone.  She is able to stay in her home with 24-hour caregivers  there with her.  Those who have spent a lot of time with her in the last few years  enjoy her pleasantness and her humor.  There  are many good times and many clear  moments when she amazes you with some of the things that she remembers and her attention to details, realizing things that need to be done.  She continues  to enjoy and be thankful for each day and be an example to all.   She loves Gleason and still thinks it is the best place in the world to live. 

Woody "Pat" Dewberry, Knoxville, Tennessee

After reading this beautiful tribute to my favorite school teacher, what a pleasure to comment on my first and second grade school teacher, Mrs. Opal Dellinger, a wonderful woman who not only taught me how to read and write, but also right from wrong.  God loves her -- and I do, too! 

It was 1951.  It was my first year in school. My new teacher was Mrs. Opal Dellinger and fate couldn't have been better to me.  She was a warm, caring, and understanding teacher who was well liked by her students and admired by their parents.  I didn't know it at the time, but "Miss Opal" would also be my teacher the next school year after I was promoted to the second grade. 

In Miss Opal's class it was the only time in my school career that I was a teacher's pet.  Everyone knows someone who was a teacher's pet, so my claim to being one too is not unusual.  What was unusual was that everyone in her class was treated like a teacher's pet.  She loved and cared for every one of us.  As teacher's pets she kept us on a leash, so to speak, using a stern look of disapproval if we misbehaved or didn't pay attention while doing our school work.  Either way, she was effective in teaching and helping us to enjoy learning from books, learning about ourselves, and communicating with our new classmates. 

I'm not sure how well read, knowledgeable, and smart my new classmates were at that tender age, but I wouldn't be surprised if my new teacher had thought of me as a "charter heathen" in that class of '51.  I couldn't read anything but pictures.  Before the year was over though, I learned to read about the adventures of Alice and Jerry and a dog named Spot. 

One of the earliest instructions that I remember learning from her was to share with my classmates.  She taught us to share our paper, crayons, and pencils.  "Learning to share was important," she said.  Also, she instructed us to raise our hands if we had questions and NOT to put our mouths on the water fountain. 

Being a teacher's pet had some perks to it.  Sometimes, she allowed us to go outside to clean the chalk board erasers.  Other times, she allowed one of us to "lead" our classmates to the cafeteria, which also meant we were served first when we got there.  Whether we stood waiting in the lunch line or eating lunch at our table, Miss Opal kept a sharp eye on her young students to ensure there was no pushing, shoving, or unnecessary loud talking.  Usually, she only had to tell someone once to stop misbehaving -- unless she was speaking to me.  I'm sure I must have been her discipline project for the school year. 

One thing's for sure, Miss Opal never had any trouble holding our attention in the classroom.  So, for all the members of the class of '51, thank you, "Miss Opal!"

 

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