The following article by Charles Hartley was published on 24 May 2015. It is archived here for your reading enjoyment.
If you or your children attended Roby Elementary between 1966-1979, or Bullitt Lick Middle School between 1980-1987, chances are that you remember Ms Jean Casey who taught social studies to seventh and eighth graders. Perhaps you recall the unusual way she got up out of a chair without bending her knees, or the twisted condition of her fingers brought on by rheumatoid arthritis.
If you're like many others, you soon forgot to notice these things, maybe because Ms Casey took little notice of them herself.
Jean was born in 1924 near a small town in Metcalfe County, Kentucky called Summer Shade. But by the time she was three years old her parents had moved to Louisville, leaving farm life behind in favor of opportunities in the big city. Her father got a job in a tractor factory, working as a spray painter, and life for his family looked promising. But then he contracted pneumonia, perhaps from inhaling the paint fumes, and died in 1929, leaving behind a young widow and three small children.
Then, a few months later in October, the Stock Market crashed, beginning an economic crisis that would consume nearly a decade. Men by the thousands lost their jobs, and jobs for women were even scarcer. Jean's mother had no one to turn to, and was forced to allow her children to be put in foster care while she scratched out a meager living as best as she could.
It would be several years before the children were reunited with their mother, difficult years for everyone.
Jean made her way through Louisville Girls High School to her senior year, and would have been the first in her family to graduate from high school, but financial concerns led her to leave school with a few months to go and enter the work force.
She married her first husband, a young soldier, and they had a son; but the marriage was unsuccessful and they divorced two years later.
Jean was working for Western Union when she was stricken with rheumatoid arthritis. What would follow were several years of surgeries and intense pain. The disease caused her legs to draw up, preventing her from walking at all. In the 1940's, her doctors' solution was to use adjustable braces to slowly straighten her legs, followed by surgery in which her knee joints were fused so that she would never bend them again.
Gradually she learned to walk again, this time with heavy braces on her legs to help support her. She was finally able to leave home and find work at the Blue Boar restaurant on Fourth Street where she worked for many years as a cashier. After several years of wearing the braces, she gained enough strength in her legs to walk without them.
It was during this time that she married again, but again success eluded her as that marriage too ended in divorce.
Jean was a voracious reader, consuming books as fast as she could obtain them. When she was 39, her family encouraged her to go back to school. Although she had not completed high school, she was able to successfully complete an entrance exam and in the Fall of 1963 took her first college classes. By taking summer classes as well, she was able to graduate in 1966.
That Fall, she began her new career as a school teacher, and for the next 20 years that was her passion.
Jean never let her handicap stop her from doing whatever she could. She took frequent trips on bus tours, including one to New England. She also took a trip to Europe with a teacher-student group. She even took her granddaughter on a trip to Hawaii.
But age and the ravages of arthritis slowly took their toll, and she was forced to abandon the classroom that she loved. But she was not finished. For several years, she was able to volunteer in the library at Shepherdsville Middle School, surrounded by the books she loved.
Then macular degeneration destroyed her vision, forcing her to give up this as well.
But she would not give up her books. Unable to see to read, she turned to books on tape.
When the end came in 1995, it was not her mind that failed, but her body.
She can best be remembered as a lady who met each challenge the best she could, and refused to surrender without a fight. She was a good model for us all.
Copyright 2015 by Charles Hartley, Shepherdsville KY. All rights are reserved. No part of the content of this page may be included in any format in any place without the written permission of the copyright holder.