Every student was this teacher’s favorite
Hildur Anderson touched many lives in her 48 years as a school teacher, and in her 94 years on earth. In my 13 years in the Aspen school system, I can think of few teachers who treated me so kindly as dear Mrs. Anderson.
Hildur Anderson died last Wednesday in Yuma, Ariz.
In the book “Aspen: The Quiet Years,” Hildur credited her love of teaching to her own eighth-grade teacher.
Aspen has had so many wonderful teachers: Bob and Kay Simons, Mona Frost, Lucille Price, Heidi Roupp, Lois Clark, Bernie Pausback, Sandy Munro and Don Alexander, to name a handful.
But Hildur Anderson exuded a warmth and compassion matched by few. Every student was her favorite, every day was the best day of the year. She made learning fun.
Hildur’s teaching came both from heart and mind. She came from an era when students read from Elson Readers and learned Spencerian Script as the standard of penmanship; when corporal punishment was accepted and time off in summer meant working on the ranch to prepare for the long winter ahead.
She brought the best of that era with her and left the harshness behind.
Hildur grew up in a ranching family. She taught in Rifle, Crested Butte and at Woody Creek and in the one-room red schoolhouse on Brush Creek.
Her experiences allowed her to possess a wry sense of humor that she skillfully used to challenge her students. She taught in a meticulous manner and demanded the best from all of her students, but understood that children make mistakes.
She was tough but loving.
With the familiar bobbing of her head and raising of her eyebrows she would let you know she meant business. By simply adding a hint of a smile, you knew she cared for you as if you were her own.
My first memory of Hildur was at her riding stable in Aspen. She used to let me brush the horses after they’d come in from a trail ride. She taught me how to run the brush with the coat and not against it and how to take tangles out of a mane without tugging on the hairs.
She also taught me and my four older brothers math. She worked with her students and not against them. She didn’t force information, she allowed her students to absorb it.
In “The Quiet Years,” she described herself as being “a little ahead of my years in teaching.” She learned early on that students learn more easily if they make decisions about what and how to learn.
One way she did that was through the sixth-grade “Mathematicking” program. Students would come up with their own ways to teach and learn math. Their ideas and interactive displays were then exhibited for one night in the gymnasium at the old middle school.
My class put on the last Mathematicking program. It might have continued for a couple more years, but Hildur suffered a serious injury that next summer when one of her horses kicked her and shattered her hip.
It was a year before she returned to school. Once such a strong woman, she had to rely on a walker and didn’t have the energy she once had to teach. She retired at the end of that year. It was 1973.
Even after retirement she kept in touch with her students. She attended graduations and class reunions, and on special occasions brought out her accordion.
She always told past students that they were one of her favorites. Of my four older brothers and me, she liked Tom best.
Tom graduated in 1972 and died in a car crash in 1979. At his 10-year reunion, Hildur sat in a field wearing a flowered hat and greeting students.
“Tamie Mullikin,” she said, taking my hand and giving me a smile. “How is Tom?”
I could tell it broke her heart to hear the bad news about Tom. It would have for any of her students.
“I’m so sorry,” she said, her expression changing to sadness. “He was such a nice young man.”
At my own 10th reunion, there was Hildur, sitting in the field, wearing a flowered hat, greeting old students with the expected warmth of a long-lost friend.
Again, she took my hand.
“How is Tom?” She asked, her entire being more aged that I had remembered.
Again, I told her, and again the happiness left her.
“I’m so sorry,” she said. “He was such a nice young man.”
The last time I saw her, she was celebrating her 88th birthday at a senior luncheon in Carbondale.
She sat quietly in her wheelchair, wearing a flowered hat, her eyes twinkling between the folds of her aging skin. She didn’t recognize me when I knelt at her side.
“Happy Birthday, Mrs. Anderson,” I said, taking her hand. “I’m Tamie Mullikin.”
“Tamie Mullikin,” she smiled. “How is Tom?”
I hesitated for a moment, then squeezed her fragile hand and rubbed her smooth skin.
“Tom is fine,” I said.
“Oh, I’m so happy to hear that,” she said with that familiar smile.
“He was such a nice young man.”
Tamie Meck is a Post Independent staff writer. Her column appears on Tuesdays.
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