Longtime teacher leaves legacy of books, learning

Posted May 17, 2010, at 11:28 p.m.
She and I took Dylan,then 2 ,to meet the Scottish relatives. We were on a train traveling from Glasgow to Edinburgh and she had a pile of books that she  liked to read to Dylan.  Dylan is now attending his forth year of college at Sonoma State University. w/CURTIS STORY
She and I took Dylan,then 2 ,to meet the Scottish relatives. We were on a train traveling from Glasgow to Edinburgh and she had a pile of books that she liked to read to Dylan. Dylan is now attending his forth year of college at Sonoma State University. w/CURTIS STORY
Mum with Searsport 8th graders and Mum she is reading to them about the history of Stockton Springs and the Model ship that is housed in the town office next door to the library. w/CURTIS STORY
Mum with Searsport 8th graders and Mum she is reading to them about the history of Stockton Springs and the Model ship that is housed in the town office next door to the library. w/CURTIS STORY
on the steps of the library, Stockton Elementary students walked down to the library to tour and sign out books for the first time. She was on the sidelines as she thought it was about the kids and not about her. w/CURTIS STORY
on the steps of the library, Stockton Elementary students walked down to the library to tour and sign out books for the first time. She was on the sidelines as she thought it was about the kids and not about her. w/CURTIS STORY

STOCKTON SPRINGS, Maine — All her life, Mary Staples was the best kind of advocate for books and learning.

The longtime Frankfort Elementary School teacher read stories aloud to her pupils and encouraged them to learn more about different countries and different books.

In her retirement, Staples helped found the volunteer-run Stockton Springs Community Library in 2001, serving as its longtime director and unofficial head librarian.

For those who love reading in Waldo County, it was clear this week that Staples, who died last Thursday at the age of 73, would not soon be forgotten.

“She was just an awesome educator and cared a lot about her community and the children here,” Brenda Holweger, who taught with Staples at Frankfort Elementary School, said Monday. “The reading part was so important to her. I think that was her legacy.”

Christina Ellis, who works with teachers in the school district, had Staples as her sixth-grade teacher in the late 1980s.

“She was definitely my favorite teacher,” Ellis said. “She was a very influential person.”

Even when Staples was sick with cancer, she never lost interest in her passion. Less than a month before her death, she was able to attend the Stockton Springs Community Library’s open house and even walked upstairs to visit the children’s room.

“That’s what she really strived for,” said Robbie Pendleton, a library trustee and volunteer. “She wanted a special room for the children.”

The kids who pull colorful picture books and children’s classics from the specially sized bookshelves may never know that the woman who tirelessly worked for them had a life that sounded a lot like a fairytale.

“It’s quite a Cinderella story,” her daughter, Dawn Staples-Knox, recounted Monday. “It really is fascinating.”

Mary Staples was born to impoverished Scottish immigrants who settled in Prospect to work at the quarry, but her father drank heavily and died before he was 50 years old.

“My grandmother did all kinds of jobs that nobody should have to do,” Staples-Knox said. “She cleaned in the canning factory. It was a very hard life.”

There was plenty of fighting, but often not enough food. One year for Christmas, Staples received just a pair of ill-fitting socks. She later told her daughter that she had always had the feeling of not being loved.

But there was one place that she felt at home.

“She loved school,” Staples-Knox said. “She just sucked in books.”

Staples was a good student, but knew she would have to earn a lot of money before she could go to college. At the age of 14 or 15, she got a job waiting tables at an upscale restaurant in Sandy Point.

“One of the guys she waited on was a scruffy old man. They formed a friendship,” her daughter said. “He had lots and lots of money, but he never looked it.”

The man, James Duncan, always requested that Staples be his waitress, and a couple of years later he asked her about her goals.

When she told him her plans to work and save money for college, Duncan asked to speak with her mother. He told her mother that he would pay for Staples’ education if she went to Gorham State Teacher’s College.

It was a deal.

Mary Staples studied hard and got her degree, even though she had married her high school sweetheart and fellow bookworm, Basil Staples, as a sophomore and had her first child when she was a senior.

Dawn Staples-Knox, herself a teacher, said her mother’s gifts went beyond the love of reading.

“I teach school every day. I know kids who have nothing,” she said. “When people say, ‘well, that kid’s poor, and will never make anything of himself,’ I never buy it anymore. I try to think every single kid could make it. It could have been my mom.”

Calling hours for Mary Staples will be held from 6 to 8 p.m. Thursday, May 20, at Mitchell-Tweedie Funeral Home, 28 Main St., Bucksport.

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