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Voices from the Classroom: Legacy of Mary Ellen Lucas lives on in hearts, minds of those she touched

By Amanda Klare
Beechwood Elementary School

This past Friday, I found out that Mrs. Mary Ellen Lucas had passed away at the age of 96. As I read her obituary, I learned all the details about her impressive contributions to public education. After retiring with over 40 years of teaching experience, she then went on to teach at Northern Kentucky University and even earned her doctorate in education.

Though I wasn’t taught by Mrs. Lucas, I already knew all about this Beechwood teaching legend through the stories of those who were among the lucky ones to have had her for English and/or Social Studies. Having devoted over thirty-one years to our district, she touched countless lives in the Fort Mitchell community. Mrs. Lucas (Mama Luc, as she was called by her students) was known for her kindness, her hugs, and her ability to connect with each of her students.

MAry Ellen Lucas with Carol (Stenken) Beirne at the Beechwood Class Reunion in 2017. (Photo provided)

When I saw the obituary, I immediately called my dad. I grew up hearing my dad telling me about the teachers who had made a difference in his life; the ones who cared about him as a person — Mrs. Lucas was one of my dad’s champions. He said, “Mrs. Lucas is proof that you can be the fun teacher and still have high expectations for your students. Nobody ever wanted to let Mama Luc down.”

One of Mrs. Lucas’ first students at Beechwood was Carol Stenken Beirne. “Mary Ellen Lucas came to Beechwood my freshman year. She was an important person to the class of 1963. I taught school for thirty years because of her. She was a role model for many and loved by all.”

Michelle White, a Beechwood teacher and a Beechwood alumna, reflected on the impact that Mrs. Lucas had on her as a person.

“Mrs. Lucas loved to tell stories and talk about the dolls she made,” she said. “She was the type of teacher who would drop everything so we could talk about our lives. Mrs. Lucas got on our level and wanted to know how we were feeling. She had amazing classroom control; there was never a behavior issue in Mama Luc’s class. We adored her.”

Amanda (Burns) Klare with Mrs. Lucas at the Beechwood Senior Awards Banquet in 2003. (Photo provided)

As a colleague of Michelle White, I can personally tell you that Michelle embodies these same great qualities as a teacher that she learned from her teachers like Mrs. Lucas.

My mom, a Beechwood graduate of 1981, said that the news of Mrs. Lucas’ passing spread quickly and it was posted all over her Facebook feed. The theme of the posts was that Mrs. Lucas’ kindness was not forgotten even forty years after graduating. Each post included former students sharing memories of Mrs. Lucas and the impact she had on them.

I graduated from Beechwood in 2003 and at my senior awards banquet, I was awarded the Mary Ellen Lucas Scholarship. This scholarship went to a senior who was going into education.

I remember standing there, listening to her impart her words of wisdom to me in front of the large crowd. At that moment, eighteen-year-old me didn’t know that in merely four years I would be lucky enough to return to Beechwood as a teacher, but I knew that I wanted to be like Mrs. Lucas. I wanted to be a champion for each student who would walk through my classroom door. I wanted to be the teacher who students remembered years after having my class. Here I am fifteen years into my teaching career and those same goals remain — I always want to be that teacher for my students.

Mrs. Lucas will always be remembered. She is the legend who will live on in all of her students’ stories. She definitely left the world a better place just by being in it.

Amanda Klare is a Hope Street Group Kentucky State Teacher Fellow alumna and a teacher at Beechwood Elementary School (Beechwood Independent). Klare created and maintains the Northern Kentucky Tribune‘s “Voices From The Classroom” feature, which highlights local teachers and their work to improve outcomes for students. She is a recipient of the 2019 Teacher Achievement Award and was a semifinalist for the 2019 Kentucky Teacher of the Year award.

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