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Published: Wednesday, 2/5/2003

Longtime teacher knew how to handle classroom bullies

MORENCI, Mich. - Leethel Fern Fortney, who taught Latin and algebra for more than three decades in Lenawee County, died Saturday in the Fulton County Health Center, Wauseon. She was 93.

She had been in failing health the last year and lived with her neighbor, Mary Fletcher, who was her caregiver the last three years.

Miss Fortney grew up in Bowling Green and began her teaching career in the Wauseon area. But most of her career was in Lenawee County, where she taught in Sand Creek, Morenci, and Madison schools. She was a substitute teacher for several years after retiring and tutored children in her home.

“She was an excellent teacher and had a good reputation,” her sister, Winona Fortney, said.

Bruce Cottrell had Miss Fortney for Latin and algebra in the late 1950s at Morenci Area High School.

“I liked her. I had a good time with her,” Mr. Cottrell said. “She was very stern.”

He recalled the day the class bully hit Miss Fortney in the back of the head with an eraser while she was writing on the board. She didn't say a word. But when she was finished at the board, she walked to the boy's desk, grabbed his earlobe, pulled him from his desk, and marched him to the principal's office one floor below - “two steps at a time,” Mr. Cottrell said.

“Very few people walked faster than she did,” he said. “He was about 6-4, and she wasn't very tall, and she took care of him.”

Miss Fortney was a longtime member of Morenci United Methodist Church and sang in the choir until the mid-1990s.

She and Ms. Fletcher had a ritual when her health allowed: Six days out of seven, they went out for lunch and supper in town. They traveled to Hillsdale for performances at the Gospel Barn. Even in recent years, Miss Fortney continued to speak about teaching.

“She was quite some lady,” Ms. Fletcher said.

Mr. Cottrell said: “She just loved kids. She loved to educate them. Every time one of them was a success, she just blossomed.”

Miss Fortney was a graduate of what is now Bowling Green State University. Early in her teaching career, she spent summers working at a Toledo supermarket.

Surviving is her sister, Winona Fortney.

Graveside services will be at 11 a.m. today at Weston Cemetery, Weston, Ohio.

The family requests tributes to a charity of the donor's choice.



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