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Published: Friday, 7/24/2009

Woodward teacher was domestic dynamo

Thelma Veres, 81, who taught Woodward High School students how to sew and cook and set a proper table and craft a family budget, even how to land a job, died Tuesday in Swanton Valley Care and Rehabilitation Center.

She had been in failing health since a stroke in February, her daughter, Nancy McDonnell, said.

Mrs. Veres, of Springfield Township, retired in 1985. She'd taught in Toledo Public Schools since the 1950s and had brief assignments at Nathan Hale and Lincoln schools. Most of her career was at Woodward.

At the start, her students were young women.

"Home economics didn't just involve cooking," her daughter said. "It was the whole 1950s-Better Homes and Gardens, how-you-run-your-home."

There were lessons on sewing. There were lessons on how to follow a recipe and how to coordinate all the dishes that make up a meal. Students got primers on how to serve the meal and how to set the table - "it was all about presentation" - and how to entertain in one's home.

Mrs. Veres stirred in a fair dash of Emily Post, as well - etiquette and tips on how a young woman ought to carry herself. And she taught students how to apportion a paycheck to cover a household's expenses.

"She called all her students 'her kids.' She was always talking about 'her kids,'•" her daughter said. "She just liked doing things and knowing she was able to help and make a difference, a pay-it-forward mentality before it was ever called that."

Society changed and, by the early 1970s, young men joined the young women in her classes. The last decade of her career, she taught a program for juniors and seniors that covered job applications; job interview dress and behavior, and workplace expectations once hired.

"What was so satisfying for Thelma was when her students succeeded in acquiring a job and holding it," said Colleen Mackowiak, a colleague at Woodward.

At the end of one school year, after she and her daughter cleaned out the classroom, they stopped at the nearby Kmart. Mrs. Veres was greeted by a former job-training student who was hired at the store and then promoted to assistant manager.

"[The student] went on and on. It just kind of reaffirmed the whole thing: There were so many people who came in contact with my mom. She touched their lives and changed them," her daughter said. "She had such a positive outlook on everything, and it was contagious."

Woodward staff members saw that too.

"She was one of the most kindhearted, gentle women I ever met - her understanding, her thoughtfulness," Mrs. Mackowiak said. "She always had an ear if you needed to talk."

Mrs. Veres grew up on a farm near Cardington, between Columbus and Mansfield. Her parents knew she and her brother aspired to a life off the farm and sent them to college.

Mrs. Veres received a bachelor's degree from Otterbein College in Westerville, Ohio.

"She was the first of the women of the family to go to college," her daughter said.

She received a master's degree from Bowling Green State University.

She was a master of the domestic arts she taught. She made her own wedding dress, "which would give Vera Wang a run for her money," her daughter said.

She coordinated meals for nutrition and visual appeal. A chicken dish served with white potatoes would not do.

"She could make a rhubarb pie or blackberry pie like nobody's business," her daughter said.

When she and her husband lived in Sylvania Township, they had an acre on which they grew their own vegetables. They bought 25 flats of annuals each spring for the front of their house in Springfield Township.

"My mother got out there with a ruler, and if it said [the flowers were] supposed to be an inch-and-a-half apart, [they were] an inch-and-a-half apart," her daughter said.

She liked to travel. The family visited all 48 contiguous states during their three-week-a-year road trips when their children were young. The couple later went to Europe and China.

She was known beyond friends and former students, and not just as a familiar face. Workers at the supermarket or post office or restaurant greeted Mrs. Veres as "Thelma."

"She was so nice, they would seek out what her name was," her daughter said. "There was an aura around my mother all the time."

She was a member for 28 years of First Baptist Church of Greater Toledo.

Surviving are her husband, Frank, whom she married June 7, 1954; son, Charles; daughter, Nancy McDonnell, and a granddaughter.

Services will be at 11 a.m. today in First Baptist Church of Greater Toledo in Springfield Township, where the body will be after 10 a.m. The family suggests tributes to the church.



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