By Judith Ryder
Matthew 6:33, “But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things will be added unto you.”
Growing up in East Peoria, Illinois, little Patricia Rowe couldn’t have known just how much she would come to trust the truth of Matthew 6:33, but God knew. When Patricia was 21, He brought her safely under His wing, and from then on, although hardly immune to heartbreak and suffering, she would remain totally sold out to Him. Matthew 6:33 became her life verse. Even before asking Jesus into her heart, Patricia remembers loving God and talking to Him frequently. She had attended child evangelism meetings until age seven, but then her parents stopped taking her to church. Still, she recalls wanting to ask Jesus into her heart but, being painfully shy, she did not.
Multiple moves, turmoil, and emotional trauma marked much of Patricia’s life but she credits the Lord with growing her spiritually and helping her through them all. Nothing could prevent her from pursuing her God-given talent for teaching. During a memorable career spanning 1957 to 2006, Patricia taught students in a wide variety of classroom settings including public, private, special education, Sunday school, and women’s Bible studies. Her book, The Other Side of the Desk: A Teacher Remembers (2009), thoroughly demonstrates that there is simply no substitute for an experienced, caring teacher, particularly if her name is Patricia Rowe.
After completing high school in IL, Patricia earned her B. S. in Health and Physical Education from IL State Normal University in 1956. She received her M. S. in Special Education from University of Minnesota-Mankato in 1972. Many additional courses equipped her for realizing her passion: devising methods for teaching every child, using his or her preferred mode of learning. Patricia insisted on grading students’ papers herself, believing errors were valuable clues for discovering how students learned best, and what they should review or correct. By experience, she discovered that one size doesn’t fit all, and that, although children naturally want to learn and excel, if somehow they become convinced they cannot, they will pretend they don’t care, and often disrupt others’ learning. Becoming adept at figuring out why some students could not seem to learn, Patricia relied on careful observation of the various ways children learn, then designed successful methods for reaching and teaching them. Staying vitally involved in the process was the key, and it greatly distresses Patricia to witness how the sorry state of education in America today, particularly Common Core, devastatingly shortchanges children.
Born in 1934, the younger of two daughters, Patricia recalls being agonizingly shy as a child. In fact, except in the classroom where she easily assumed authority, she always felt in subjection to others, sort of a “non-person”. She remembers having good parents who never allowed her to pity herself, an attitude which enabled her to cope with her life’s most difficult situations. One of the first involved her sister Louise, four years older than Patricia, and with whom she shared a bed in the family’s modest home. Patricia’s polar opposite, Louise may have become jealous and resentful of Patricia when their mother seemed overly protective of her “baby”. But, evidently, their mother was not protective enough, for when Patricia was about 12, her older sister began molesting her at night. Patricia, still extremely innocent, felt utterly powerless, confused and helpless to resist, even to the point of thinking maybe it was “supposed” to happen, or that somehow her mother might have even known and approved. Notwithstanding, she dared tell no one about it. Her sister would laugh during and after these episodes, which lasted four years, a dark and distressing time for Patricia, and one which she finds hard to explain.
Many years later, after Patricia’s salvation, marriage, and move to another state, Louise, then married and living next door to their parents, lay dying of cancer in her mother’s home. Despite the lack of resolution in their rocky relationship, Patricia felt led to write Louise, telling her she needed to ask Jesus into her heart. Louise’s daughter read the incoming letter to her mother, then going in and out of consciousness. Following Louise’s death, Patricia’s niece reported that soon after hearing the letter, Louise had sat bolt upright in bed and called out, “I’m changed!” Patricia hopes that at least Louise was reconciled to God, if not to herself. Patricia is also grateful for the privilege of leading her beloved niece to the Lord when she was only three.
At the end of her freshman year in high school, Patricia’s friend, Bill Davis, moved away to live with his grandmother due to a troubled relationship with his father. After having two sons, Mr. Davis desperately wanted a girl, but then Bill was born… Deeply disappointed, his father would take Bill’s two older brothers hunting, buy them (but not Bill) guns and bicycles, and leave Bill at home with his mother, baking and cleaning. Even his brothers admitted their father was mean to Bill, so when he’d had enough, Bill left home and went into the Navy. He began writing Patricia, and for seven years they corresponded voluminously, continuing into Patricia’s college years.
One day in 1953, a chance encounter caused Patricia to begin contemplating what kind of man she should consider for a husband, and prompted her to inquire about Bill’s intentions since, after seven years of letter-writing, their friendship appeared to be going nowhere. As was her custom, she talked to God about the situation first, asking Him to speak to Bill if He wanted their relationship to progress. Then she wrote to Bill. To her great surprise, even though they had never had a single date, Bill responded by proposing. He also wrote his mother, requesting her to send Patricia a lovely ring he had bought for her in Japan. Patricia accepted, mainly because she believed that God had led – it was kind of like a business deal. When Bill came home on furlough, they had their first date, seeing the movie, “He’s Just My Bill!”.
After seven years writing letters, they believed they knew each other quite well. Bill returned to the Navy, they continued writing, and Patricia decided it was time to visit her future in-laws, although she dreaded it. Having once worked in a restaurant with Bill’s mother, Patricia remembered how Mrs. Davis, to avoid being caught smoking, would ask her to signal when her husband came across the street from the tavern to check up on. But upon arriving at their home, Patricia encountered two very different people. The father had stopped drinking and the mother, who had stopped smoking, sweetly and lovingly began sharing about the Lord, asking Patricia if she knew whether she would go to heaven when she died. Patricia replied she didn’t realize it was possible to know that, but she believed the Bible and tried to live right. Mr. and Mrs. Davis then shared their personal testimonies and, after returning home, Patricia finally asked Jesus to come into her life and be her Lord and Master. She was 21 years old.
Immediately her life changed, and suddenly she hungered to read the Bible and worship God. She joined a Baptist church near campus, dedicated Sundays solely for Bible reading and worshiping God, and told Him she would trust Him to help her complete her studies. When Bill returned from the Navy with a dishonorable discharge, (which he denounced, claiming he had been wrongly accused), Patricia completed her degree, graduated in 1956, and they married. She’d been saved in August, baptized in October, and married in June. Tamara, Mark, and Kimberly came along in 1957, 1960, and 1962, respectively. Still living in E. Peoria, Patricia began her teaching career, first substituting for a year, then taking her first full-time position, teaching 5th grade for three years at another public school.
In 1961, they moved to Owatonna, Minnesota so Bill could attend Pillsbury Baptist Bible College while Patricia taught health and physical education at Minnesota State School and Hospital. In 1965-67 she began graduate school in Special Education. Bill left school in 1967-8, moving his family again to Faribault, MN where he began training for being a Child Evangelism Director, and Patricia taught in the new Special Education program in Faribault Public Schools. In those days, Special Education was a whole new concept; Patricia wrote her first of four education-related books, Health and Physical Education for the Mentally Retarded, (1968) published by T. S. Denison. Bill’s job fell through.
In 1968-69, the family moved again to Stewartville, MN. Bill would work as Administrator in a new Christian school in a friend’s church, and Patricia as a teacher. Following a “disagreement” Bill had with the deacons, they moved again, this time to Rochester, MN where he got an insurance job and she subsituted. In 1970 they moved yet again, to work as foster parents at Children’s Home in Michigan. The school year ended, Patricia went ahead with the children, and Bill stayed behind to sell their house. He arrived in July to become Director of the units while she was a housemother and counselor. Patricia noticed he’d developed a facial tic, and seemed somewhat distant. After just seven months, Bill had a “disagreement” with the Administration (a psychologist interviewed them separately, but Patricia never learned the nature of the “disagreement”), and the family returned to MN where Bill resumed selling insurance, and Patricia resumed master’s degree studies at Mankato and worked as a substitute. For the next two years she worked full-time as Special Education Teacher Coordinator, both teaching and training. In 1972 the family bought a home near her school, where they lived through 1979. Kim and Mark went to a Christian school while Patricia taught.
In 1979, Patricia was assigned a teacher’s aide, Jane, who not only became a close friend but was also instrumental in Patricia’s future. Tamara was attending New Tribes Institute, Kim had come back to high school, and Mark had started at Fairhaven Baptist Bible College in Indiana. Bill’s sales position kept him away all week and home on weekends. During the school year, Jane got sick, was hospitalized, lost her apartment, and came to stay with the Davises until graduation, when she got a job in RI and moved there. In the interim, Patrica contracted shingles. Her doctor told her she must find a place to rest, not with family, after school was out. Bill, who had become ill and was on disability, stayed with the children while Patricia spent June and July in RI with Jane. Jane located a church she thought Patricia would like, Quidnesset Baptist Church in North Kingstown, where Patricia met a couple, Norman and Edna, who drove her back and forth to church that summer. Patricia received counseling from Quidnesset’s experienced and much beloved Pastor Harold Burchett who, after a lengthy period of intense counseling, helped Patricia to understand that Bill was doubtless a homosexual. Initially shocked, Patricia came to realize that although Bill was a good husband and father, he was either lying to himself or mistakenly believed he had gained the victory over homosexuality. His dishonorable discharge from the Navy and the unexplained “disagreements” throughout his work history, now came into clearer focus.
After much prayer, Patricia decided that their family would benefit greatly by coming to RI, attending Quidnesset, and receiving sorely needed counseling. At the last moment before leaving RI for home, Patricia learned that God even provided a future job for her at the Groden Center, so when she went home she could say she was employed. The circumstances under which this offer came were practically miraculous, timing-wise, and Patricia saw evidence of God’s hand throughout. Meanwhile, Pastor Burchett had warned that returning home to confront Bill could be difficult, and urged her to protect herself. Although no violence resulted from the confrontation, Bill was neither amenable to receiving counseling nor to moving to RI. Sadly, after 23 years of marriage, the couple divorced in 1979. Patricia held no bitterness towards Bill because she understood how deeply he’d suffered his whole life from being treated as a pariah by his father. Yet the emotional fallout was great. Kim elected to stay with her father, who promised to make her beneficiary on his life insurance, and Mark inherited Patricia’s car for college. (Tragically, a few years later, after moving to AZ to share quarters at a YMCA in a gay community, Bill was shot to death.)
Following the divorce, Patricia moved to RI to live temporarily with another friend. After joining Quidnesset, she began being mentored by Edna. In adult Sunday School, Patricia met Edna’s widowed brother-in-law, Pasco Mitola, who, in 1982, would become her second husband. Until his health began failing, the couple lived happily together for the next 13 years, Patricia treasuring her relationships with his entire family. She was honored that, before his death in 1995, Pasco arranged for her to be buried in their family plot at Quidnesset; his children and grandson continue looking after her needs today.
In 1996, after Pasco’s death, Patricia thought it right to move to PA to be near her son, Mark, who was now married with six children and had become a pastor. Patricia bought a house near his, and became immersed in teaching English at a Christian school and activities at the senior center, eventually becoming Program Director. There she met Ken Rowe, whose wife had died a year after Patricia’s move to the area. Both were musical and enjoyed being friends; then, after six years, married in 2002. Soon they were asked to help start a new church, and served God there until 2007-8, when Ken needed to go into a nursing home. Meanwhile, Patricia had knee surgery. Ken died 2012, Patricia sold their house, and lived for a while in senior housing, but after a few months she asked the Lord to provide a home back in RI. Although she had put her name into a few places, none had vacancies until one opened up in Warwick, when Pasco’s family came to PA to move her back to RI.
Since then, she’s attended Friendship Baptist Church which, being closer to home, enables her to drive herself. Nearing 80, she goes to a weekly exercise class, plays the piano, adheres to regular daily Bible study in addition to reading a Psalm and a Proverb, plays a variety of mind-sharpening games with friends, and keeps in touch with former students in addition to her three children, 12 grandchildren, and 39 great-grandchildren, 12 being her own. A year ago Patricia underwent breast cancer surgery, and has made an apparent recovery without further treatment. Still enthusiastic and characteristically optimistic, she desires to continue serving the Lord however He wills. She has considered writing a blog or an advice column covering such topics as “Authority, Respect, and Obedience”; “Where do behaviors Come From: How Does Behavior Transform Into Character?”; “How Can Parents and Teachers Best Work Together?”; “How Have Teaching (And Parenting) Practices Changed?”; and “What Do Children Really Need to Succeed In School?” Currently she mentors and counsels others informally, but is open to speaking to church and other groups about her life experiences both as a teacher and an Overcomer, always relying on the ever-present help of the Lord, her Savior and her Master.
This a compelling story…nice job Judy…keep up the good work!