Geraldine Teipel Ashley, 86, who conveyed her affinity for all things French -- language, culture, cuisine -- to her students at Maumee Valley Country Day School, died Saturday in her Leland, Mich., home of complications from cancer.
Her condition was diagnosed in the spring, and she was in hospice care. In late summer, her husband, Charles Sumner Ashley II, learned he had bladder cancer. He died Oct. 2. Their 66th anniversary would have been Nov. 17.
"I don't know many couples who make it that far," their son Steven said. "They were the best of friends."
Her love affair with France was clinched when the couple spent three years in Grenoble, studying at the university there, after World War II. Back in Toledo, her husband took over the family business, which was founded as Toledo Wire & Iron by his father, Meredith Ashley.
A graduate of Briarcliffe Junior College, Briarcliffe, N.Y., she attended the University of Michigan and the University of Toledo. She and her husband were Maumee Valley Country Day School alumni. After a stint as an office administrator, she began to teach French there, first in the lower grades and later in the high school.
Her approach was to conduct classes in French as much as possible, "so students would learn to love the language," her son said. She also aimed to sell the students on France, "and she would spend a fair amount of time talking about the food and the culture and traveling there."
In the early 1970s, she took a group of her Maumee Valley students to Villeneuve les Avignon in France for a year when such long-term study-abroad programs were unusual. "She had to win the trust of eight sets of parents, the administration of the school. To take your kid away for a year when they're 13 years old is a fairly profound thing, but she managed to do it to great success," her son said. "That created a bond with those kids that is unbroken to this day."
Several years ago, she wrote a book about the experience, ... And So To France.
"I think she understood young people as much as anybody I ever knew," said Nan Miller, a longtime friend and a former colleague. "She was the heart and soul of Maumee Valley Country Day School."
She retired in 1981 and her husband closed his business. The couple bought a carry-out near their Maumee home and transformed it into Maumee Wines, which they later moved to Parkway Plaza on the Anthony Wayne Trail.
In 1984, they opened an outpost in the former Portside Festival Marketplace in downtown Toledo, complete with a wine bar and a chef.
The couple in the early 1990s moved to Michigan's northwestern Lower Peninsula, where Mrs. Ashley's parents had spent summers since 1939.
She grew up on Front Street, Perrysburg, down the street from her future husband. The couple's Maumee home became the area's base camp for his brother, longtime U.S. Rep. Thomas Ludlow "Lud" Ashley. She didn't venture from the kitchen to wave campaign signs or knock on doors.
"And she loved it," her son said. "It was a big welcoming house, and politicians need food like anyone else. Her role in politics was feeding it, but also creating a home and an atmosphere where Lud could do what he needed to do."
She was a former president of L'Alliance Francaise of Greater Toledo.
Surviving are her daughters, Michael Ashley and Becky Ross, sons, Steven and Tom Ashley, brother, Carl Teipel, and six granddaughters.
No formal services are scheduled. Family members plan to plant a tree in the spring at the Leland Library. Arrangements are by the Martinson Funeral Home of Suttons Bay, Mich.
The family suggests tributes to the Leland Library and the Maumee Valley Country Day School's Ashley Fund for foreign travel.
Contact Mark Zaborney at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6182.