Longtime Missoula teacher celebrates 100th birthday

2011-05-23T12:30:00Z Longtime Missoula teacher celebrates 100th birthdayBy JENNA CEDERBERG of the Missoulian missoulian.com

Virginia Speck greeted the century mark in good health and good spirits.

So good in fact, most gathered at her birthday celebration - including the guest of honor herself - had trouble believing she's now 100 years old.

"I'm feeling pretty good," Speck said.

"Doesn't she look wonderful?" several guests asked.

A lot of water has gone under the bridge since Speck left her hometown of Whitehall for Missoula, where she launched a long career as a much-loved math teacher. Friends, family and former students gathered to honor Speck's birthday on Sunday during a reception at the First United Methodist Church.

Few have forgotten the gift of education Speck shared with all her students.

Speck was born on May 21, 1911, in Whitehall, the daughter of Rachel Stanley and Ed Speck. After teaching in several rural schools around Montana, Virginia moved to Missoula in 1945. She'd always liked math, and taught it for 27 years in Missoula, first at Missoula County High School.

Speck walked from her apartment across Higgins each day to teach at MCHS, and is one of last living MCHS teachers.

Former student Bill Reynolds left Speck a note Sunday among the old pictures and yearbooks laid out for guests to admire. It spoke to the inspiration Speck shared with him through her classes at MCHS in the 1940s. It was Ms. Speck's math lessons that got Reynolds on his way to medical school.

Reynolds, the note said, had since become Speck's doctor.

Speck earned a master's degree from the University of Montana in 1947. She moved to teach at Sentinel High School when it replaced MCHS, and was chair of the mathematics department at Sentinel for her last 10 years of teaching. There, she not only helped students with math, but was a guide to up-and-coming teachers as well.

Former colleague Loren Johnson shared a piece of cake and reminisced with Speck.

He'd sought Speck's advice more than once when they taught math together at Sentinel.

"I had never taught geometry before. It was always algebra," Johnson said of his first year at Sentinel. "I had to run over and ask questions every once in awhile."

Virginia retired in 1973 and traveled the world. She mowed her own lawn and maintained her driver's license until just a few years ago.

Former students still stop by and visit Speck, who lives alone in Missoula, and "she has more people send her cards," Speck's niece Carolyn Adams said.

Greg Lee, who was in Speck's geometry class in the 1960s, reminded Speck on Sunday that she'd helped earn Lee and several students a spot at a science camp in Chicago. Lee went on to graduate with a degree in chemistry from UM.

He remembers Speck as a "pretty reasonable teacher."

Adams remembers sitting in the back of Speck's classrooms as a kid. She describes her aunt's teaching style as "strict, but excellent."

The crowd gathered on Sunday suggests that even after all these years, it is the "excellent" part that stands out most.

Reporter Jenna Cederberg can be reached at 523-5241 or at jenna.cederberg@missoulian.com.


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