Life Tribute for Ora Lora Spadafora McGuire
On June 13, 2019, five days short of her 95th birthday, Ora Lora Spadafora McGuire passed away in her sleep cradled in the loving arms of her twin daughters. She leaves behind an enduring legacy. She was a superior educator, an advocate of the arts, a promoter of reading and mind expansion, a positive thinker with a "can do" mentality, and a passionate defender of truth and principles. She was a true influencer who shaped and inspired the lives of countless young people, fellow teachers and others who sought out her wisdom, positive mindset, intellectual curiosity, and lovingkindness.
Growing up in Chicago on Western Avenue in an immigrant family with three male siblings, her strict Sicilian parents kept tight tabs on their baby girl, but supported her love of education and dream of becoming a teacher. Grandpa and Nana believed in education as a means of bettering one's life, but not before first arranging a marriage with a doctor fourteen years older. In her memoir, she writes of running away to a trusted teacher's house, who had a connection and helped arrange a scholarship to study at Northern Illinois State Teachers College. Just sixteen years old, Ora excelled in her studies of French and English literature and grammar, under the tutelage of a beloved mentor, Dr. Lillian Cobb, whom she has described as "tough as nails, brilliant, a scholar". She graduated on June 13, 1945, with "eyes wide open, curious and grateful."
Returning to Chicago under the firm watchful eyes of her parents, she took on her first jobs for "pin money" at a candy factory, a stationery factory, and endured a brief stint as a waitress, before finally breaking away to head one hundred miles south to teach elementary school children French in the tiny burg of Earl Park, Indiana. To make ends meet on her meager teaching stipend, she picked up work in nearby Fowler as a switchboard operator, where she would listen in on conversations between her future husband, Tom, and his girlfriend, Lorraine, a relationship Ora was determined to sabotage. Every time they chatted, she would mischievously disconnect them. A romantic attraction soon blossomed, and Mom and Dad ended up eloping because the conservative social mores at the time frowned upon - even disowned - an ethnic Sicilian woman and a German/Irish man to enter into a loving union. But with the birth of the twins on April Fools Day, 1954 (a surprise for all!), they were welcomed and warmly embraced into the McGuire / Spadafora families.
The broad arc of her life from that point on was a juggling act balancing the demands of parenthood (five kids in five years) and pursuing a teaching career at Oxford High School and Benton Central Jr Sr High School. She also squeezed in time and effort to earn a Master's Degree at Purdue University in 1964, a testament to the power of her mind and spirit to achieve one's dreams and goals: "There are no limitations to what we can do," was her powerful mantra, a life philosophy best summed up by a quote she loved to share: "Shoot for the moon; even if you miss, you'll land among the stars."
Throughout her teaching career, she was a passionate advocate for "learning by doing." She was a lover of books, a tireless promoter of reading and the arts through storytelling and inventive programs. At Benton Central, she was the "Media Coordinator" instituting innovative library science exhibits, introducing "New Media" concepts, and launching educational and arty programs as a counter punch to the lopsided emphasis on sports in her community to the detriment of and neglect of the arts she so fervently supported. She fought hard for recognition and participation in the many programs she initiated, including the Black Friar's, Info-to-Go, the Unheard, the Media Club, First Arts Festival, Tabard Inn, Special Olympics, Educational Awareness Week, and - love of her life - though short-lived, Opera de Lafayette and, her lifelong dream, The Book Tower bookstore in Oxford Indiana.
Always on the cutting edge, ever exploratory and curious, with an undying thirst for knowledge and passion for teaching, throughout her twenty-seven year career she inspired a generation of students, instilling in them a sense of self-worth and accomplishment. She never under-estimated anyone, always realizing the potential in young people, a master in helping to awaken their latent talent, the spark to ignite embers of creativity. She devoutly believed the mission of a teacher was to discover, encourage and bring out the often unheard and neglected potential of young people who would go on, she believed, to influence future generations. "The secret of education," she loved saying, "is never forget the possibility of greatness in all people."
Her own greatness was recognized with many accolades from colleagues and students, along with prestigious awards bestowed over the years:
* The Council for Academic Excellence
* The Edgar P. Williams Award for Outstanding Educational Service
* The George Award for personal initiative in seeing and attempting to fill unmet needs beyond any thought of fame or gain
* The Heinold Award for Info-to-Go program
* The State Library Award (her proudest professional moment)
Upon Ora's retirement in 1989, she boldly packed up and moved to Brooklyn, New York to be close to three of her daughters (the twins, Cathleen and Colleen, and her youngest, Tina, soon to provide her with two beautiful grandchildren whom she doted over and adored). She resided in Brooklyn for a couple of years, then moved to Brookline, MA for a time, before moving on to settle in Walpole near Tina and her family.
In the "third act" of her life, she finally had some "me time" - a chance to spread her wings, and grow and nourish her soul. She took up mediation and yoga, became a vegetarian, lost seventy-five pounds, explored and nurtured the artist within, and developed new circles of friends. She was a Wise Elder, a Peace Activist in the spirit of her hero, the "Peace Pilgrim", and never stopped learning and giving. Right up to her final years in Walpole, she led workshops at the Senior Center in Origami (she was adept at folding peace cranes), Opera (one element of her Italian upbringing she held on to), and created the "Mind Over Matter Olympics". Always a lover of puzzles and brain-teasers, one of her favorite sayings was, "You have to exercise your mind, too." On Walpole Day, May 2012, she was Grand Marshal, a proud moment for her and the community who recognized her as a living legend. For several years, into her late eighties, she contributed to the Walpole Times as "senior" correspondent writing dozens of entertaining and insightful columns under the heading "In Touch with Seniors"; she was, no doubt, America's oldest columnist during that fruitful stretch.
Celebrating a long, happy, productive life that spanned nearly a century of great social and political change, the legacy of Ora Lora Spadafora McGuire lives on in the hearts of all who knew and loved her. This legacy is what she called The Storyteller's Creed: that imagination is stronger than knowledge; that myth is more potent than history; that dreams are more powerful than facts; that hope always triumphs over experience; that laughter is the only balm for grief; and that love is stronger than death.
Her grandson, Joey, summed up her life's energy with these words: "Heaven gained a beautiful angel. To the woman who always taught me to reach for the stars and to always do my best at anything I do in life. I will truly miss you and will always remember to be kind and loving as you were."
Rest easy, Mom. We will always carry you in our heart.
Ora is survived by her five children, Cathleen, Colleen, Tom, Gina and Tina, her four grandchildren, Joey, Caitlin, Alysia and Karmin, and her four great-grandchildren, Trinitey, Baylie, Taeler, and Chayton.
A Memorial Mass will be held at Blessed Sacrament Church, Walpole, Tuesday, June 18, 11:00 a.m. (Ora's 95th birthday).