Susan Parrish
The La Grande Observer

UNION — Wearing a red Union Bobcats T-shirt, Pat Greene slowly walked from table to table as the first-graders practiced writing their spelling words. A hand shot up.

“Grandma,” called a young voice.

Greene turned and walked to Millie Blaylock’s table.

The girl had carefully written a portion of her spelling words, but she had written the letters so large that she didn’t have space on her whiteboard to write the rest of the words. Greene found a spot, and Millie again bent her head to her task.

Crisis averted. But then Greene noticed a boy who needed help. Off she went.

Greene, 90, volunteers at Union Elementary School four mornings a week, for a total of 18 hours. She is a participant in Foster Grandparents, a federal program that “provides a way for volunteers age 55 and older to stay active by serving children and youth in their communities,” according to the Foster Grandparents website. Greene is paid a small stipend to help out in the classroom. It’s a win for the senior, the students and the teacher.

Born on Sept. 5, 1927, Greene grew up on a small farm in unincorporated Telocaset. Her parents were station agents for the railroad, but they also raised cows. Before school every morning, she had to do chores, including milking cows.

“We always named our cows,” Greene said. “My dad told us: ‘You can name it, but when it comes time to butcher, you will eat it.’”

Greene attended the old Telocaset School, which at the time had 12 students in first through eighth grades.

“We argued about who got to clean the erasers and make a cloud of chalk dust,” she recalled.

After graduating from Union High School in 1944, Greene attended
Eastern Oregon Normal School, the predecessor of Eastern Oregon University. A couple of years later, she left school to get married and start a family.

Greene went on to a caregiving career, which eventually took her to The Dalles. When she retired, Greene moved back to Union County to live with her daughter. She is an avid reader and keeps her mind busy doing word search puzzles and genealogy research. She watches a little TV. “Jeopardy,” “Wheel of Fortune” and “Antiques Roadshow” are her favorites. But those activities were not enough to keep her busy.

“After six months of retirement, I was bored out of my skin,” Greene said.

So her son did some research and found the Foster Grandparent program. She’s been helping out in the classrooms at Union Elementary for eight years now. From the beginning, Greene has volunteered in Rhondie Johansen’s classroom.

“We call her ‘Grandma Pat,’” said Johansen. “A lot of kids just call her Grandma.”

Johansen explained that Greene monitors students working on spelling, handwriting and writing stories. She listens to students read aloud and she reads to them.

“She loves to read,” Johansen said. “She’s an inspiration to all of us. (She shows) how you can get up every day when you’re 90 years old and come back and make a difference in children’s lives. She’s dedicated.”

When she first started helping out at the school, Greene paid for hot lunch every day. But in the last couple of years, she had to tighten her budget and started bringing a sack lunch from home. Soon afterward, the employees in the school kitchen pitched in to pay for Green’s hot lunch.

“I think some of the teachers may be in on that too,” she said with a smile.

Johansen, 44, said Greene’s life experiences add to the classroom discussions. Greene was a child during the Depression and a teenager during World War II.

“It’s nice to have her perspective on some of the things we talk about in the classroom,” she said.

Greene has no plans of retiring from her gig at the school.

“I’ll keep coming back as long as I can,” she said. “I have a lot of aches and pains, arthritis, a heart that went crazy on me. But I’m in good health, really. The kids keep me young.”