Kay Ogden, or Kay O, right, just off the beach in Ocean City in 2006 with her "granddaughter," Debbie Marshall Smith. Ogden never married or had children, but the schoolteacher raised Smith's mother - Ogden's half-cousin - and became 'mom' to former student Jerry Fadden for 55 years.

Smith family photo

In 40 years as a teacher in Ocean City, Kay Ogden touched a lot of young lives. But it’s hard to imagine that Ogden — who died last month at 103 — affected or protected anyone as much as she did Jerry Fadden.

That’s why Fadden, 68, who lives near Portland, Ore., flew across the country last week to tell his story at a memorial service for a teacher who never married or had kids of her own.

Fadden’s mother died of cancer when Jerry was 13, shortly after he spent sixth and seventh grades in Ogden’s classrooms. His mother and Ogden — or “Kay O” to friends — went to the same church and had become friendly. And after his mother died, Ogden “was my mom,” said Fadden, who runs an investment company in Oregon.

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That wasn’t formal or official. There was no adoption, no foster-parent setup. But for more than 50 years, there was a giant tub of Johnson’s caramel popcorn — a signature taste of Ocean City — delivered to Fadden every birthday. When he had a son, the boy started getting Johnson’s on his birthday, too, Fadden said.

In his college days at the University of Pennsylvania, “Every month, for all four years, without fail (she sent) a round tin of ginger snap cookies,” Fadden said at Ogden’s memorial. “But even more: a $20 bill inside — hoagie money for a month! In high school, she made Christmas dinners for me. ... Had me and my prom dates over for pictures. ... And she sat in the front row in church next to my Dad when I got married in Ocean City in 1966.”

He didn’t always make it easy on Ogden, an old-school teacher who started her career in 1930 and retired in 1970. Fadden got in some trouble in high school and had to spend time in court, and his father — a “bad-boy alcoholic” — kicked the teenager out of the house for a while. When he needed a place to stay, his old teacher would take him in.

It wasn’t until Fadden was almost 60 that Ogden explained how she “inherited” him. Shortly before Jerry’s mother died, she asked Ogden to visit her hospital bed. His mom gave the teacher a small gift — a scarf — and a huge request: “Please take care of my little boy.”

And in 55 years, Kay O “never once failed me. Never. Ever,” Fadden said.

But he wasn’t the only kid this nonmother took care of — often for decades. When Ogden was 31, her half-cousin died, leaving a 13-year-old daughter. Ogden raised the teenager, who became Mary Shoemaker Marshall, which is how Kay O. became a loyal-for-life, surrogate grandmother to a still-more distant cousin, Debbie Marshall Smith, 52, an Ocean City girl who now lives in Reidsville, N.C.

“Kay O was a mother to many people,” Smith said. “She looked for kids who needed the most — and she gave it.”

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