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Margaret Virum and Irene Scatliff in their U of M 1949 graduation gowns.

Margaret Virum and Irene Scatliff at their 1949 U of M graduation.

Not by the book: A gift in honor of an innovative grade-school teacher

A gift in honor of an innovative grade-school teacher

by Jodi Auvin

From M, spring 2004

For 49 years, Margaret Virum ('49) was a much-loved and inspiring primary-school teacher in the Minneapolis school system. But she never intended to go into teaching.

When Virum first entered the University, she was in the physical education program and loved it. Then she got tuberculosis and was out of school for two years. Upon her return, she was advised to go into a less vigorous field, like teaching. "They weren't thinking about how much energy children took," she says, laughing. "I looked through the catalog and saw child welfare, which sounded like social work for children, and entered the program. Then the dean started talking about student teaching! But it was as if God directed me. I loved teaching and couldn't have asked for a better job."

During her junior year, Virum met Irene Scatliff, a fellow student in the program who also graduated in 1949. The two shared similar views about the world and a love of reading. Today, they are still the closest of friends. "Margaret was truly an innovative teacher," says Scatliff, who became director of the nursery school and the preschool at the Gesell Institute of Child Development in New Haven, Connecticut. "Early on, she asked if she could combine first and second grades, and teach children for two or three years. It made such sense. She had an incredible sense of calm and let the best come out in each student."

From Abbott to ZuZu: many ways to say thank you

Want to honor a family member, celebrate a friend's achievement, thank a colleague, remember a cherished pet? Scores of people do it every year by making a named contribution to the University.

For example, Rich Lodahl, a 1999 graduate of the Carlson School of Management, created a scholarship in memory of his mother, who died in 1987, and he's funding it through annual gifts. It's his way of giving other students access to the people and experiences he enjoyed at the U. Ron Sawchuk, professor of pharmacy, was surprised on his 60th birthday with an endowed fellowship created in his name with gifts from colleagues, students, and family members. And in 2003, hundreds of gifts were made to the College of Veterinary Medicine Tribute Fund in honor of pets, whose names ranged from Abbott to ZuZu.

Vibrum had her own novel ideas for teaching. "I asked for tables instead of desks and allowed students to sit wherever they wanted," Virum recalls. "And I tried to give them as much voice as possible in making decisions. Some teachers thought my students were just playing, not learning. But at test time, they did as well as the others."

In 2003, to honor her friend and her work, Scatliff established the Margaret Virum Fund for School Partnerships in Literacy with $30,000. The endowed fund provides a flexible source of income for literary partnerships between the University and public schools in the Twin Cities and surrounding areas.

"My first reaction to the gift was no, no, no," says Virum. "I didn't want my name out in public. Then I thought, if it could help a few more teachers have confidence in themselves, I should do it."

Virum now volunteers with third and fourth graders at Keewaydin School in Minneapolis. And she's trying now to set up a mentoring program to get retired teachers to work with new teachers. "I want to tell new teachers not to be afraid to strike out on their own. Don't feel obligated to do what the textbooks say."

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