BRADENTON -- Jeanne Parrish, a beloved Manatee High School English teacher and a longtime active community member, died Monday. She was 95.
"She had a great, great life," said her son, Paul Parrish, a 69-year-old Bradenton resident. "She's led a great life, a fruitful life."
Mrs. Parrish moved to Bradenton in 1925, attended Ballard Elementary and graduated from Bradenton High School -- later renamed Manatee High School -- in 1935. Mrs. Parrish began her teaching career in Manatee in 1940 at the age of 20, just after graduating from Flor
ida State University. In her early years of teacher, people used to tease Mrs. Parrish about barely being older than her students.
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She taught at the school for 37 years and it's estimated she taught between 7,000 and 8,000 students during her tenure. Before her death, Mrs. Parrish was the oldest living former teacher at Manatee High School. She would have turned 96 on Dec. 2, and was a constant presence at reunions for the school, where she reconnected with her former students.
Gene Gallo, a Bradenton City Council member and Class of 1957 graduate from Manatee High School, has been the master of ceremonies for his class reunions for a long time.
"She was the life of the party at reunions," Gallo said, adding Mrs. Parrish would always get on the microphone to share funny stories and different memories from the class. She said she was often surprised at how all her students turned out.
Mrs. Parrish had a lingering effect on Gallo, as his English teacher. Gallo remembered one morning, before class, when he and three or four friends were hanging out in the parking lot 15 minutes before school began, talking about their cars. They decided it would be a good idea to head up to 43rd Street and drag race. They ended up being late to school. Gallo was in Mrs. Parrish's class when he got called down to the office by a runner.
She called Gallo to the front of the class to ask him why he was late. Gallo forgot his cover story and she could tell, he said. Before he headed out the door, she grabbed him on the arm and told him the truth would only hurt for a little while.
"I went up and told the truth," he said. "I never forgot that lesson."
Gene Page III learned a number of lessons from Mrs. Parrish as well, although he never had her in the classroom -- which she told him was by design, he said. Page met Mrs. Parrish through the First Baptist Church in Bradenton and said she never hesitated to admonish him or the other guys when they needed it.
"She would impress herself upon you," he said.
Page and Mrs. Parrish continued their relationship through the years, with Mrs. Parrish calling Page when he worked at the Bradenton Herald, assisting his father. Page, who went into real estate after leaving the Herald, helped her sell her condo at Village Green when she had to move.
"She was truly an icon well before her time," he said. "We'll all miss her so much."
Mrs. Parrish formally retired from the school district in 1983, but even then, she didn't slow down. She was a volunteer at Manatee Memorial Hospital and worked part-time as a funeral assistant for Shannon Funeral Home Westview Chapel for several years. She was a member of the First Presbyterian Church and a former member of Kirkwood Presbyterian Church of Bradenton.
"She had so many things on her social calendar she needed her own private secretary," her son joked.
Mrs. Parrish was recently honored at a Manatee High School football game where the program celebrated 100 years of Manatee football during its homecoming celebrations. Her name was announced at halftime, and she had written something down for her son Paul to read for her. But, with her shaky handwriting, Paul Parrish wasn't able to make it out, and the two had a last-minute scramble to translate the information. Even approaching the age of 96, Mrs. Parrish kept her humor, with Parrish asking the crowd if they thought the administration would let a 96-year-old teach another year. And that was keeping right in her character, Parrish said, adding his mother taught as long as she could.
"That's the way she would have done it, if she could," he said.
Mrs. Parrish died in hospice early Monday morning, Parrish said. A memorial will be held at Shannon Funeral Home Westview Chapel from 6 to 8 p.m. on Friday night, 5610 Manatee Ave. W. The funeral will be held at 11 a.m. on Saturday at the First Presbyterian Church of Bradenton, 410 15th Street W.
Mrs. Parrish was predeceased by her husband Paul, in 1993. She is survived by her son, her sister Helen Aderhold, of Atlanta, and two granddaughters, Debbie Parrish and Tracy Shinners, also of Atlanta, according to Mrs. Parrish's obituary, which she wrote herself. Parrish also has two great-grandchildren, Erin and P.J. Shinners.
In lieu of flowers, Parrish is asking memorials be donated to a special scholarship fund set up for Mrs. Parrish a few years ago by some Manatee High School alumni. Donations can be made to the Jeanne M. Parrish Scholarship Fund c/o Manatee High School Alumni Association, P.O. Box 15103, Bradenton, 34208.
The scholarship was set up for Mrs. Parrish by students, and Paul Parrish remembers his mother crying when she found out. She was so popular with former students that when Parrish bought his mother her first computer, in 1996, he had to install a second phone line, because she spent all her time on the Internet, responding to emails from former students.
"Her email was flooded from her students across the country," he said. "She loved the kids she taught and she appreciated the outreach. She has become a legend."
Meghin Delaney, education reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7081. Follow her on Twitter @MeghinDelaney.