OAK HARBOR, Ohio - Gail F. Pickut, 54, a longtime chemistry teacher at Oak Harbor High School in Ottawa County whose resolve during her 20-year battle with multiple sclerosis became an inspiration for students, died Sunday of complications from the disease in Riverview Nursing Home here.
She taught at the high school until June, when her health began deteriorating rapidly after what had been a slow, gradual decline, her son, Ryan, said.
Mrs. Pickut was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1986 while in her 30s, three years after she began teaching at the high school, and a year after the death of her husband, Harold "Woody" Pickut.
Ryan Pickut said his mother tried hard not to let the disease affect her teaching. Yet the multiple sclerosis gradually progressed to the point where, in 1993, she considered retiring or teaching part time.
However, that same year the Benton-Carroll-Salem Local School District Board of Education hired the first of three classroom aides, Sandy Kremer, whose help allowed Mrs. Pickut to continue teaching. Soon, Mrs. Pickut began using a motorized wheelchair.
"The aide was the hands and legs for her," recalled Mrs. Kremer, who assisted Mrs. Pickut for seven years. "We did all the physical things - we ran off to copy the papers - but she was the person in charge."
Mrs. Pickut was considered one of Oak Harbor's most beloved and respected high school teachers, and as students watched her courageous fight with multiple sclerosis, she became an inspiration to them, her son said.
The top 10 percent of the senior class regularly chose her as their "Honored Educator," a recognition that included an invitation to their graduation banquet.
In a published interview in the mid-1990s with Working Chemists with Disabilities, a publication of the American Chemical Society's committee on chemists with disabilities, Mrs. Pickut offered advice to educators concerned about a physical disability affecting their career.
"As long as you've got your mental faculties, why should the physical problems be a barrier? If you love to teach and love kids, then just find a way to do it," she said.
Mrs. Pickut was born in Port Clinton and was a 1971 graduate of Oak Harbor High School. She received a bachelor's degree from the University of Akron and a master's degree in secondary education from Bowling Green State University.
She taught chemistry, physics, and general science at Elmwood High School in Wood County before joining the Oak Harbor faculty.
Surviving are her son, Ryan; mother, Elva Herbert, and brothers, Keith, Alan, Mark, and Kevin Herbert.
Visitation will be after 2 p.m. tomorrow in the Crosser Funeral Home, Oak Harbor. The funeral will be at 11 a.m. Thursday in St. Paul United Church of Christ, Oak Harbor.
The family suggests tributes to the Oak Harbor Academic Boosters scholarship fund or to a charity of the donor's choice.