Mary Ann Haden taught kindergarten in her hometown, Mullica Township, for 30 years. She loved her job so much that she kept doing it until she was 70. And her family and friends say Haden — who died last month at 81 — took her job very seriously.
But the mother of two sons and grandmother of six — with her husband of 60 years, Joe — also knew how to have fun on the job. She believed that fun was an important part of learning for her students, and an important part of life for everyone.
Halloween was one of her favorite times of year, says Laurie Haden, of Mullica, a daughter in law.
The teacher was good at creating team costumes, because sewing was just one of her many talents.
“She was the Jolly Green Giant one year, and my daughter (Lori) was Little Sprout,” Laurie remembers. “Another time, my daughter (Stacy) was Little Bo Peep and (Mary Ann) was Mother Goose. … And they won a contest one year — (Mary Ann) was an organ grinder and Lori was the monkey.”
Nancy Holzermer, Mary Ann’s friend from Zion Lutheran Church in Egg Harbor City, says the teacher was famous for her costumes for the school’s Gym Show.
She and the kids were all California Raisins one year, from the old ad campaign. One of the most creative was when Mary Ann was the Statue of Liberty — and she made each child “a costume representing a different country that came through Ellis Island,” Holzermer says.
Mary Ann never minded going to lots of trouble for others. Laurie Haden remembers that one of Mary Ann’s favorite teaching techniques was making sure all her students had tap-dancing shoes — for a special reason.
“On rainy days, when the kids couldn’t go outside, she’d tell them to put on their tap shoes and dance, and get them to burn their (energy) out that way,” Laurie says, adding that the veteran teacher knew that if the kids didn’t get recess, they wouldn’t be much good for learning after lunch.
But what that meant for her family was that Mary Ann was constantly looking for tap-dancing shoes, in every possible size for kindergarten.
“We’d be driving down the road, and she’d see a yard sale and smash on the brakes and throw us all through the windshield,” Laurie remembers, laughing. But Mary Ann collected more than 30 pairs of tap shoes, and made sure they completed their emergency educational mission.
Even big, family dinners were an occasion for costumes. At Thanksgiving, the grandchildren had a choice — they could dress as a pilgrim or an Indian. Sure, Mary Ann made the costumes.
That’s just how life was sometimes with a teacher who always took her job seriously, but who never forgot what being a kid was all about.
A Life Lived appears Tuesday and Saturday.
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