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Published: Friday, 1/9/2004

Teacher s 35-year TPS career reflected desire to contribute

Gwendolyn Hopkins, 83, a teacher in the Toledo Public Schools for more than 35 years who was a leader in fraternal and service organizations, died from complications of cancer Sunday in the South Toledo home of her son Terrence.

She previously lived for about two years with her daughter Schylbea Jean in Detroit. Before that, home for many years was in the central city of Toledo, her son said.

Mrs. Hopkins retired in the late 1980s from East Toledo Junior High, where she taught seventh grade, her son said. For much of her career, she taught in elementary schools, beginning with an assignment at the former Gunckel Elementary. She later was a reading specialist in the schools.

She graduated from high school in Mounds, Ill., and attended Eastern Illinois State Teachers College, following the path of her mother, Ella Perkins, and sister, Wilhemina Perkins, who were teachers.

“Back then in southern Illinois, there weren t a whole lot of professions open for people of color, and there were segregated schools,” her son said.

Mrs. Hopkins husband, Oakley - who was a teacher when they met - was headed to Detroit during World War II because of the defense-related work available there. But he found a job during a stop in Toledo, and the family made the city their home.

Mrs. Hopkins received bachelor s and master s degrees from the University of Toledo.

“My family and her family have always been ones of trying to contribute,” her son said. “The generosity of her spirit was probably matched by the generosity of her pocketbook.

“Teaching gave her an opportunity to try to help and reach and improve,” he said. “My parents were always deeply concerned about the community and people and the future generations and life as we know it. [Teaching] was her way of trying to make a difference.”

She was a member of fraternal and service organizations and rose to leadership positions in several. “She always had her own distinctive style, and she definitely led by example,” her son said. “She frequently used her humor and her intelligence as tools to get things done.”

She was a member of Jewel Chapter, Eastern Star, for more than 40 years and had been a worthy matron and a past grand deputy for the Eastern Star district.

She was a past most ancient matron of Ruth Court, Heroines of Jericho; a past loyal lady rule of La Paz Assembly, Order of the Golden Circle, and past commandress of Mecca Court, Daughters of Isis.

She was a member of Top Ladies of Distinction and La Quincena. She was a member of Phi Delta Kappa and the Zeta Alpha Omega chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha.

She and her husband, Oakley, married Nov. 21, 1942. He died Jan. 7, 2000.

Surviving are her sons, Oakley, Jr., Terrence, James Gregory, and William Eric; daughters, Schylbea Jean Hopkins and Carla Chapman; 17 grandchildren, and six great-grandchildren.

Visitation will begin at 5 p.m. Sunday in Third Baptist Church, of which she was a member. Wake services will be from 6 to 8 p.m. Sunday in the church, with fraternal services at 7 p.m. Family hour will be at 10 a.m. Monday in the church, followed by funeral services at 11 a.m. Arrangements are by the C. Brown Mortuary.



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