Marie Ranere Rice graduated from Temple University in 1940. The longtime kindergarten teacher went back to the college in Philadelphia 60 years later to see her oldest grandson, P.J. Chew, get his master's degree from Temple.

Photo provided by family

Marie Ranere was barely out of diapers when she picked her career.

“She always wanted to be a kindergarten teacher, from the time she was 4,” said Marci Chew, 67, the older of Marie’s two daughters. “She came home from kindergarten and said, ‘I want to be a kindergarten teacher.’ ... And she never wavered from that.”

By some tellings, it wasn’t just any day of kindergarten when she made that decision.

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“Knowing my mom, it probably was her first day,” said Melanie Rice, the other daughter. “She was very definitive.”

In any case, it was almost 90 years ago when the future teacher — who grew up in and lived most of her 93 years in Hammonton, as Marie Ranere Rice — decided on her calling. And although she retired from her job almost 40 years before she died last month, her family says she never really stopped teaching.

She left the full-time job after 24 years of working in her hometown, where she’d started teaching shortly after she got home with her husband from World War II. Lt. Anthony Rice — or Tooty to friends and family — was a Hammonton boy, a pilot assigned by the Army to noncombat flights, and always stationed stateside. Marie stayed with him for most of the war, even after their first baby.

By then, Marie had graduated from Temple University in Philadelphia and taught — kindergarten, of course — in Runnemede, Camden County. When the war ended, she went home to teach and stayed with it until the early 1970s. Then she retired, although she still tutored generations of Hammonton kids.

Her classroom for years was basically an old-fashioned, one-room schoolhouse, a tiny building across the street from the main grade school. (It was the town’s old library, now it houses the local Historical Society.) Her students there included her younger daughter, now 54, who leads an orchestra and a talent agency bearing the Melanie Rice name.

Marie tried to keep that mother-student relationship secret, “because she never wanted the other kids to treat me differently,” said Melanie, of Galloway Township. “So she’d drive me to school but drop me off behind the building and tell me to walk around and stand in line with the kids.” They kept it under wraps long enough for Melanie to make friends on her own.

As a tutor, Marie’s specialty was young students, but she was so popular that parents sent older kids to her, too. A grandson, P.J. Chew, 40, of Linwood — a Princeton University engineering graduate — remembers getting calls from his grandmom, the kindergarten teacher, asking for tips on teaching advanced math.

He was happy to help — he’d learned plenty from her. And so did lots more kids over Rice’s lifetime of teaching.

A Life Lived appears Tuesdays and Saturdays.

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