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Published: Saturday, 8/13/2011

Shirley Jean Perkins, 1928-2011: Teacher's love of literature influenced lives of students


Shirley Jean Perkins, a high school and college English teacher who made an impact on the lives of many students, died Tuesday at University of Toledo Medical Center, formerly the Medical College of Ohio, after suffering a stroke. She was 83.

The lifelong lover of literature taught for many years at Lake High School in Millbury, where she was also an adviser to the school newspaper and yearbook. After retiring, she continued to teach at Owens Community College in Perrysburg. Her passion for reading and writing, coupled with her encouraging spirit, had a lasting impact on students.

"She wanted them to be the best they could be," her daughter Pat said. "She wanted to bring out in them a love for literature and a skill at writing."

Born in 1928 in Garfield Heights, Ohio, to Joseph and Mabel Minnis, she earned a business degree from Otterbein University in 1951 and a master's degree in education from the University of Toledo in 1976. Prior to moving to Toledo, she taught at Perry High School in Massillon, Ohio.

Her warmth, sharp wit, and positivity were among the qualities that made her such an influential role model, her granddaughter Kristen Lutz said. Those traits were on display in annual letters Mrs. Perkins sent to family and friends at Christmas. In 2007, for example, she described a small pontoon boat she and her husband had purchased. "It will hold four people, providing they haven't just come from the 'all you can eat' buffet," she wrote. "It has an electric motor and we quietly glide around our 30-acre lake and wave to other five-foot-by-ten-foot boat owners. (Hard to water ski at 4 mph)."

Teaching provided Ms. Perkins with so much satisfaction that payment was an afterthought, her son Jeff said. She once went more than six weeks without picking up her paychecks at the college, he said.

"Dad wasn't happy about that," her daughter recalled. "She was just so focused on her students."

Mrs. Perkins was also active in the community, serving at Epworth Methodist Church in Ottawa Hills, volunteering with Meals on Wheels, and tutoring illiterate adults.

"One gentleman wanted to read well enough to pass his driving test," her daughter said. "When he got his driver's license, he met her at the library and gave her a big hug."

Mrs. Perkins also enjoyed cooking and cruises with her husband. She described one such cruise to the Caribbean in a Christmas letter. "The wind was a problem," she wrote. "To walk the deck, we needed to hang on to the railing. We were forced to eat three extra desserts every day just to stay in place."

Always looking for the upside was typical of Mrs. Perkins. "She was the most upbeat person I've ever known," her granddaughter said.

Mrs. Perkins' commitment to education continued even in her death, her family said. She had arranged for her body to be donated to the College of Medicine at the University of Toledo for educational purposes.

"That's so her," her granddaughter said. "Education was key. She wanted everybody to learn about everything."

Surviving are her husband, Delbert, with whom she recently celebrated a 59th anniversary; son Jeff; daughter Pat Clouse; sister, Joanne Haynes; and three grandchildren.

Visitation will be at 1 p.m. Saturday, followed by a memorial service at 2 p.m., both at Epworth United Methodist Church in Ottawa Hills. The church is handling arrangements.

The family suggests tributes to the church or the American Cancer Society.

Contact Tony Cook at: acook@theblade.com or 419-724-6065.

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