Mary Elizabeth “Bettie” Gehring, a one-time kindergarten teacher who led the early childhood education program at Owens Community College and expanded its scope and reach, died Sunday at Alcoeur Gardens in Wayside, N.J. She was 73.
Ms. Gehring, formerly of Bowling Green and St. Simons Island, Ga., had dementia for more than a decade, said Donald Gehring, her former husband, who continued to look after her affairs. The couple retired in 2001, he as a Bowling Green State University administrator; she from Owens. They moved to St. Simons Island, Ga. She received care as her condition worsened, eventually moving to a catered living apartment and then a nursing home.
The couple divorced in 2005. They had met the spring before she went to college and married in 1960.
“She was always a sweet southern woman,” Mr. Gehring said.
The dementia had affected more than her memory and the ability to dress herself. “I still loved the woman, but I just couldn't live with her,” Mr. Gehring said. “It changed her personality entirely.”
From 1994-2001, Ms. Gehring was chairman of early childhood education at Owens. She worked with area universities to see that would-be teachers were prepared to work with children who have physical and other challenges. She knew that child-care workers might not have time or the means to further their education. She arranged for Owens faculty to visit those workers at the child-care facilities.
“She opened the doors to a lot of people who couldn't go back to school who were working in early care and education programs,” said Shelley Libby, a colleague and friend.
“She had actually been a teacher of young children. She didn’t come up through academia,” said Ms. Libby, who retired from the Owens department of teacher education.
“She knew what the challenges were and what was required of teachers. She was going to see to it that the people who were taking care of children got what they needed,” Ms. Libby said.
“She was very passionate about what she did, and that passion came through,” Ms. Libby said. “Her contribution to teaching her own classes was to bring her own story to the classroom, which was a phenomenal thing for adults back in the classroom for the first time to hear: ‘I was a mother. I went back to school.’ ”
Ms. Gehring received the 1998 Teacher of Teachers Award from the Ohio Association for the Education of Young Children.
At the 1998 conference of the Midwest Association for the Education of Young Children, she was recognized for excellence in training teachers.
She and Mr. Gehring moved to Bowling Green in 1991. She was on the early childhood education faculty at BGSU, and he was director of the higher education doctoral program.
Students of the BGSU department of applied human ecology elected her “teacher of the year” for 1992-93.
She was a former officer of the Ohio Children’s Trust Fund board, to which she was named by Gov. George Voinovich.
She was born Jan. 12, 1940, in Atlanta to Hazel and Freeman Groover.
She received a bachelor’s degree in child development from Florida State University in 1960.
Ms. Gehring cared for her children at home for several years and in 1968 became a kindergarten teacher in Whitesburg, Ga.
She later taught in Kentucky and North Carolina, where she set up a community child-care center. Improving education inspired her to become a teacher of teachers.
She had a master’s from the University of Louisville and a doctorate in early childhood education from the University of Georgia.
“She would often say this, ‘We’ve got to do something to get these teachers better oriented to work with young children,’ ” Mr. Gehring recalled.
Ms. Gehring was a former member of First United Methodist Church, Bowling Green, where she sang in the choir — as she did at every United Methodist church to which she belonged, Mr. Gehring said.
Surviving are her daughter, Lisa Anderson; son, David Gehring; three granddaughters, and two great-grandsons.
Arrangements were by Fiore Funeral Home, West Long Branch, N.J.
Memorial services are pending at Wesley United Methodist Church, St. Simons Island, Ga.
Contact Mark Zaborney at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6182.