Life of music, ministry for teacher
August 17, 2011 - When Barbara Nolin moved to Clarkston, she had one goal in mind.
|Barbara Nolin, wearing a sweater printed with covered bridges of Mansfield, Ind., where the longtime Clarkston teacher is moving. Photo by Phil Custodio (click for larger version)|
"My daughter lives here, Nan, and I wanted my grandchildren to know me," said Nolin, 86. "I've lived here 15 years – mission accomplished."
Along the way, the lifelong teacher taught many Clarkston youth as a substitute teacher throughout the district.
"I taught everything and anything," she said. "Clarkston students are wonderful, amazing. I like people, and children are little people. I like to learn from what they say."
Twelve years ago as a substitute teacher assigned to an in-school suspension class, she recited for the students some of the inspirational poems she wrote.
"They called it a rap – they would say, 'Mrs. Nolin, do the rap,'" she said.
They have been a hit ever since, and she was invited to Clarkston High School teacher Ryan Eisele's Slam Poetry last May.
"They said, 'Mrs. Nolin, do the rap.' I did four of them," she said. "They burst into applause and they all got on their feet. It was very dramatic, a good way to end my teaching here."
She is moving back to Indiana, where she is from. There, she'll be near two sons, three grandsons, and two great granddaughters.
Reflecting on her life, she is amazed at the turns it took.
She studied at Ohio State University, Wheaton College, and New York Theological Seminary, earning her Masters of Religious Education degree in 1948, and was ordained a United Methodist Church minister.
"Women didn't do that in those years," Nolin said. "My mother worked to put me through school."
She ministered in Indiana, then got married and moved with her husband to New Jersey in 1954.
She spent 10 years at home raising their two boys, Mark and Tim, and two girls, Beth and Nan.
"Those are the foundation years when you can make a difference in a person's life," she said.
She was a teacher, first as a pastor's wife then continuing after their divorce in 1972.
Moving back to Indiana, she taught music, taking school choirs to first place in district and state competitions, and was also choir director for a Baptist church for 12 years.
In the 1980s, she decided to reclaim her ministry in the United Methodist Church, taking classes at a seminary in Dayton, Ohio.
She worked as a school counselor in Richmond, Ind., serving as an advocate for pregnant teens.
When she moved to Clarkston in 1996, she heard the district needed substitute teachers and signed up.
"There's a fine line between church and state – I never preached to kids as a substitute," she said.
She used her experience with music, though, to teach a whole generation of Clarkston students.
"You can teach anything when you teach music," she said. "At Clarkston Junior High School, I would see kids I taught in grade school. Then at Clarkston High School, I'd see them again."
She also volunteered with Michigan Peace Team as a writer.
"We've had too many wars – it bothers me that we've not learned a thing," she said.
She also has a new writing project – Biblical genealogy, tracking family trees back to Adam.
"There are stories in those names," she said. "I expect to publish it. I'm not finished yet."
Phil is editor for The Clarkston News. He is a veteran of the first Iraq war, having served in the U.S. Army.