SHAWNEE, Okla. (BP)–Two 97-year-old twins, retired teachers Sadie Gardner Blanton of Shawnee, Okla., and Madie Gardner Shaffer of Guymon, Okla., have been named as recipients of the Profile In Excellence Award by Oklahoma Baptist University’s alumni association.
“A love for learning and a genuine, compassionate interest in people is a standard the sisters passed on not only to their own families, but also to thousands of students during their 40-year teaching careers,” OBU stated in a news release. “Many young teachers have, in turn, passed these values on to their own students in honor of the twins. The ripple effect of the two … teachers has reached countless lives.”
As identical twins Sadie and Madie celebrated their 97th birthday in June, the sisters could look back on lives marked by service and care. After attending a one-room school for first through eighth grades in the Oklahoma Panhandle, they attended Texhoma High School. It was too far to walk to school, and the Depression made everything more difficult, so the girls lived with separate families in town while cooking, cleaning, doing laundry and caring for children to earn their keep.
Sadie and Madie graduated from high school as valedictorian and salutatorian, respectively. Because she was valedictorian, Sadie received a two-year scholarship to Oklahoma Baptist University — but she would not go without Madie. To allow the twins to attend college together, First Baptist Church in Texhoma provided tuition for Madie for two years. The sisters once again worked for their room and board.
In those days, a person could teach with only two years of college education. After two years at OBU, Madie began teaching in a rural one-room school at Keokuk, Okla., to help pay for Sadie’s tuition. While there, Madie earned $70 a month for teaching and $3 for janitorial work. She used the janitor pay to purchase school supplies for the children because many could not afford them due to the Depression.
After Sadie completed her degree, she began teaching in Trousdale, Okla., to pay for Madie’s tuition. The sisters graduated together in 1939.
SADIE GARDNER BLANTON
During her 10-year tenure at Trousdale, Sadie taught third and fourth grades, and ninth-grade English and world history. While there, she met her future husband, Fraser Blanton, on a blind date. They married three years later and eventually had three daughters, Carolyn Barrett, a 1968 OBU graduate, Peggy Gass and Barbara Glorioso.
“You were always my favorite teacher during my first years at Trousdale,” Murry Perkins wrote Sadie with greetings on her 94th birthday. A retired University of Chicago engineer, Perkins worked on the Mars “Rover” exploration instrument. “It’s because of you and your sincere and serious approach to teaching that I am what I am today! I’m sure that things would be entirely different for me otherwise.”
In 1947, Sadie moved with her husband to New Orleans, where they lived for the next 32 years. He would become a naval hero, Commander Blanton. Sadie attended graduate school at Tulane University and taught fourth grade for 30 years at New Orleans Academy, an elite boys’ military school. She made a lasting impression on many people with her sparkling blue eyes and her listening ear.
“She just had a peace about her, a gentleness that was so evident,” recalled David Barrett, a member of Oklahoma Baptist University’s Class of 1967 who met Sadie when he visited his future wife — her daughter — in New Orleans. “Although she was, and still is, the size of a pixie, I sensed a giant of a woman. When I was around her, she made me feel so important and special. Thirty years later, I realize that she has the same effect on everyone who knows her.”
In 1978, Sadie was named New Orleans Academy’s Outstanding Teacher of the Year and the yearbook was dedicated to her. She is a lifetime member of Delta Kappa Gamma and Eastern Star. While in New Orleans, she was a Sunday School teacher for adults and teenagers for many years and active in Woman’s Missionary Union. She also served 20 years as the Vacation Bible School director for Highland Baptist Church in Metairie, La.
After retirement in 1978, Sadie and Fraser returned to Oklahoma and settled in Shawnee. They were married for 45 years before his death in 1985. Sadie is a member of Immanuel Baptist Church in Shawnee.
MADIE GARDNER SHAFFER
Following her graduation from OBU, Madie returned to the Panhandle to teach at rural Unity School about 17 miles west of Guymon, Okla. Because she was a certified teacher, she made $100 a month for the nine-month school year. In addition to teaching, she cleaned the building — a challenge with the Panhandle dust and winds — and some days she shoveled out buckets of dirt. She also cooked lunch, teaching the seventh- and eighth-grade home economics class to cook and serve stew and hot chocolate for the meal.
The school was the center of the social activity for the community. Madie met her future husband, James E. Shaffer, at a box supper. After marrying in August 1942, they farmed and ranched in the Unity community. They would have two daughters, now Jane Ann Locklear and Cindy Williams. Madie excelled at creating community celebrations for holidays and other important dates, said Elois Baker Nowels, one of her former students.
“Madie Ann Shaffer’s guiding, counseling, caring nature positively impacted my life as it did with all who came in contact with her,” Nowels said. “She was a master teacher even before there was an officially recognized title.”
One of Madie’s gifts was making every child feel as though he or she was her favorite student. She learned every child’s name before the school year began and never forgot them, even years later. Many of her former students who became teachers have said they chose a career in education due to the calm, nurturing spirit they witnessed in Madie. One student said she taught students to read and write “with the gentleness of an angel.”
“Madie has had a profound spiritual impact on my life,” said Melinda Powell Veres, whose family has known Madie for more than 70 years. “She was dedicated to the study of the Word and exemplified the Proverbs 31 Christian woman.”
Madie taught at Unity for 10 years; at Guymon for 28 years; and, after retiring in 1979, continued to substitute teach for another 20 years; finally retiring in 1999 at age 85. She was honored in Oklahoma City as a 50-year active member of Delta Kappa Gamma. In 1974 she was named Guymon Teacher of the Year and Texas County Teacher of the Year and in 2010 she was queen of the Pioneer Days Parade in Guymon, where she is a member of First Baptist Church.
Madie and James were married 59 years before his death in 2001. She still lives in Guymon.
The Sadie and Madie Gardner family is an OBU family by education and service. As their father encouraged them to get a good education, the twins also encouraged their children and grandchildren. All are college graduates, and most have advanced degrees. Four daughters and one granddaughter followed as teachers. Two granddaughters work with international missions organizations.
Sadie and Madie’s family members said Oklahoma Baptist University provided the opportunity for them to prepare for lives of service in their roles as educators, wives, mothers and Christian women — and to encourage countless others in the same noble pursuits.
Julie McGowan is news and media relations director for Oklahoma Baptist University in Shawnee. With an overall enrollment of 1,777 students from 38 states and 19 other countries, OBU offers 10 bachelor’s degrees with 84 fields of study.