My mother, Marilyn Prater, died of cancer on January 17, 2008.
She always made it clear – without often saying it – that she was proud of me. But it wasn’t until after she died, when I saw her friends and students come together to honor her memory, that I thought to be proud of her.
Mom’s primary vocation was as a grade school teacher. To me her teaching had just been a job – where she went during the day. I had never realized how much she put into it, nor how much others got out of it.
At Mom’s funeral one of her former students introduced herself. She was with her three children, each of whom had also had Mom in class. And all four of them said the reason they loved to read was because of Mom.
Then at her funeral lunch, her fellow teachers talked almost ceaselessly of how much they had learned from Mom while working with her over the years.
Weeks later I read the following column in the St. Francis Solanus Parish Church bulletin. Mom had been one of two Protestant teachers at this thoroughly Catholic school for more than twenty years. I have not met Father Kirk, but I understand that he is not an easy man to please or impress. Yet he wrote this tribute to her and published it to his congregation. Nothing has made me prouder of her.
Bulletin: Sunday, January 27, 2008
St. Francis Church; Quincy, IL
In Sympathy: Mrs. Marilyn Prater
By Fr. Kirk
We have been saddened by the death of one our teachers at St. Francis School, Mrs. Marilyn Prater, on January 17. Marilyn had been diagnosed with cancer several years ago, had undergone treatment and was in a period of remission, and then for the past months was dealing with its return. Her funeral service was held this past Tuesday, January 22, at the Hansen-Spear Funeral Home.
Marilyn had taught at St. Francis School for a total of twenty-two years: 1984-98 and again from 2000 to the present. At various times she taught fourth, fifth and sixth grades. More recently she taught half-time in fourth grade and half-time as a Title 1 teacher. She was super organized, loved the children, and tried to bring out the best in each of her students. There were times when they did not appreciate the excellence she expected of them, but they knew she was always there for them. Marilyn had been a teacher of choice from just after receiving her degree. She taught initially in Texas, then in the Quincy public school system, and finally at St. Francis until this past December when she was forced to retire due to illness. She always said that it took three major qualities to become a good teacher: passion, patience and perseverance. She truly exemplified all three in her professional career.
There were two things in particular I admired about Marilyn. For a number of summers she worked with students to develop their reading skills down in the Br. Martin Room. While many other teachers were enjoying their much deserved vacation, Marilyn was there helping youngsters to improve so that they could advance academically and get a better concept of their self-worth.
The other thing was to see how she approached her illness. As her energy was waning, she insisted on climbing the steps up to her room on top floor of school rather than taking the elevator. It was her way of saying she was going to keep going and to persevere to the very end. Even in the final days of her earthly life she made lists of things she wanted finished so that she could die in peace. As it happened, she died just a few days after the final list was completed.
Marilyn helped so many students throughout her life. We are thankful to her for her dedication and example of discipleship. We promise continued remembrance in prayer. May she rest in peace. AMEN.
Since her death, St. Francis Parish and other local institutions have memorialized Mom in several ways. This past May (2009) the Girl Scouts and her students dedicated a Dogwood tree to her memory in the school courtyard. The plaque includes an image of Garfield the cat, Mom’s class mascot and “the only one allowed to be lazy at school.”
While Mom was dying, she was very clear that she did not want people to send flowers or other fleeting acknowledgments of her death. She wanted to channel that energy to help children learn to read and to play music. So my family established a donor-advised fund for her at the Community Foundation of the Quincy Area.
More information on Mom’s fund can be found here. [UPDATE: in March 2015 we greatly expanded this project, creating a new Marilyn & Steven Prater Family Fund to permanently fund a two-year scholarship at St. Francis School for a student who shares Mom’s love for reading and the arts. More details on that can be found here.]
I miss Mom every day. But I don’t just keep trying to make her proud of me – I’m glad to be proud of her and what she brought to people outside of her family.
- Marilyn Prater’s Obituary [Hansen-Spear Funeral Home]
- Article on Quincy area scholarships [Quincy Herald-Whig; October 21, 2008]
Marilyn & Steven Prater Fund [Community Foundation of the Quincy Area]
- St. Francis Church Bulletin [January 27, 2008; scanned]
- Marilyn & Steven Prater Family Fund [with photos and links to a local newscast and newspaper article; March 2015]