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Joe Wingard remembered: ‘I hope you’re up there reciting The Canterbury Tales with Chaucer’

Joseph Cecil Wingard, who spent his 39-year teaching career at Andalusia High School, was remembered Friday for his love of the English language and literature, as well as the idiosyncrasies of his classroom.

If he were teaching today, former students said, he’d open class in the way he always did.

“This is the 30th day of December in the year of our Lord, 2017, the two hundred forty-first anniversary of our country’s independence. The thought for the day is …”

Many former students shared memories about him on social media as word of his passing spread on Friday. He died in Montgomery after a battle with Parkinson’s Disease that made it necessary for him to move closer to family.

Abby Malphrus Carter, currently a math lecturer at Troy University, said as an educator, she is painfully aware that not all high schools are “created equal.”

“”I genuinely believe that I learned from some o the most talented intelligent, caring teachers that have ever walked this earth … and you, sir, are at the top of that list,” she wrote in an open letter to her former teacher. “I am thankful that your expectations for us were high and because we wanted to please you and meet those expectations, we learned to persevere. That is a quality that has served me well not only in learning, but also in life.”

Among the rights of passage for his students was the memorization of the prologue to Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales in old English.

Another former student shared that he was far from Wingard’s best student, and had been assigned to write thousands of sentences.

“I m certain he didn’t like me,” he wrote. “But when I called him from the APD (a long time ago), he got dressed and picked me up.”

There were many students with whom he remained in contact, but members of the Class of 1972 felt a special connection.

“The Class of 1972 arrived as 7th graders at AHS the same year that Mr. Wingard arrived there to begin his teaching career. We would spend the next six years together as students of an extraordinary teacher, one who was often cussed and discussed, but one who would become legendary to our class and those following,” Roger Powell recalled. “He was our teacher, our mentor, and our friend, and an influence beyond measure in our adult lives. While he taught hundreds of students, the class of ‘72 felt that he ‘belonged’ to them.”

Such was the connection between the class of 1972 and their English teacher, they feted him with a huge reception at Springdale to celebrate his 70th birthday.

As a teacher and class sponsor, Wingard was an organizer of Andalusia High School’s commencement each May. Angie Sasser was a former student who became a teaching colleague.

“I was honored when he asked me to sing ‘Hall of Ivy’ (at commencement) about 20 years ago,” she said.

From that day until her retirement, she sang it every year.

“He came and sat down front at graduation even after he retired,” she recalled. “We lost a lot when he retired with his love of Andalusia High School heritage. We have received many compliments about the dignity of our ceremony.”

He taught in the same classroom for 39 years, and was a Memolusia sponsor.

Wingard’s appreciation of Andalusia High School’s history and traditions led to the establishment of the Heritage Room at AHS, in which he was instrumental.

He also was the founding president of the Covington Historical Society, which established a local museum now home to countless artifacts.

In his retirement years, he wrote a social column for The Star-News, under the pen name “Mrs. Grundy.” Mrs. Grundy is a figurative name for an extremely conventional person. “Mrs. Grundy” began life as a minor character in a 1798 Thomas Morton play. In the play, she is never seen, but often quoted. Wingard took the role to heart.

Until his health began to deteriorate, he appeared at the newspaper office weekly to type his column, carrying scraps of paper, programs, invitations, and other items on which he had noted the names of people “Mrs. Grundy” had encountered in the prior week. Each column opened as if Mrs. Grundy were indeed observing from off stage, “Peeping through my Venetian blind, I saw ….”

Among his closest friends were fellow educators Curtis and Margie Thomasson. Mrs. Thomasson and Wingard’s birthdays were five days apart. Ironically, they departed this life within five hours of each other, he at approximately 1 a.m. Friday, she at about 6 a.m. Click here for obituary information.

Graveside services for Wingard will be Sunday at Coosa River Primitive Baptist Church. An Andalusia memorial will be planned at a yet-to-be-determined date in January.

 

Joseph Cecil Wingard |
Photo courtesy of Mike WIlliams