On Sept. 2, 2010, close to 30 Sacred Heart Academy alumnae sent cards and messages to mark the 91st birthday of a woman remembered by many as the teacher who made them walk with books on their heads.
Fortunately, that’s not the only thing Academy alumnae remember about former physical education teacher Elizabeth Stone.
Many recall how Stone, a devout Catholic, would quickly change from her P.E. garb into a dress each weekday around noon, then dash from De Mattias Hall to St. John’s Chapel to attend Mass. Others remember how much they disliked the green gym uniforms they had to wear. Still others recall half-court basketball games, volleyball and gymnastics. Most recall the personal interest Stone took in them.
Stone, now 92, remembers her former students as well – and the reason she made them balance those books on their heads.
“At that time we didn’t have any equipment or space, so you had to think of something to do,” Stone said. “So, I pretended it was a finishing school.”
Stone came to the Academy in the early 1950s after teaching part-time at Sacred Heart College, which needed a gym teacher to meet Kansas requirements on teacher education. After four years of teaching summer P.E. classes to about 30 sisters, Stone was asked to teach full time at the Academy when the teacher who had been hired for the job was suddenly called out of town just before the school year began.
The offer came at an opportune time for Stone. Her husband Howard had died unexpectedly six weeks previously.
“I was lucky to have a profession when my husband died,” she said. “Not many women did.”
Stone, who originally planned to be a music teacher, earned her P.E. degree at what is now Pittsburg State University. Stone said her decision turned out to be a good one, because “I wasn’t a very good music teacher.” She was, however, an excellent violinist, who played in the Friends University orchestra for 20 years.
Stone said her degree, and her lifelong habit of physical activity, may also be the reason she stays in good health at 92. Although she doesn’t drive any more because of failing eyesight, she still cooks and tends to the housework, as well as the flowers, small vegetable garden and bushes that grow near the house she and her late husband Howard moved into in 1945. The home was initially a one-room house; Stone has added rooms to it many times over the years.
Stone taught at the Academy until the school merged in 1966 with St. Mary’s Cathedral High School to become Madonna High School. She continued teaching full time at Madonna and other schools until she reached retirement age in the early 1970s. Stone then worked part-time as a substitute teacher in Wichita public schools for several years beyond that.
Today, she continues pursuing her love of music by playing piano, and remains devoted to her faith, taking communion every day from a parish volunteer who comes to her house. She also enjoys spending time with her daughter, nine grandchildren, and 17 great-grandchildren.