Mrs. Horner leaves behind loving legacy

The year is 1958, and Miss Cecilia Midthun is nervous. She stands outside her high school English classroom in Le Sueur, Minnesota, clad in high heels and a long skirt. She is 21. Her male students are 17. It’s intimidating. "They were much, much taller than I," she reflects. The year is now 2009. Generations of high schoolers have come and gone. Clothes have gotten less proper. Behavior has become less tense. But Cecilia still stands outside her high school English classroom. She is now 72 years old. She now lives in Ames, Iowa. She wears a matching purple blouse and pants. The students smile, wave. "Hi, Mrs. Horner!" they shout from across the hall. Mrs. Cecilia Horner smiles at them all and waves back. They’re still much, much taller than she. "They’ve kept me young," she says. But soon, she will leave this place. Mrs. Horner is retiring, after thirteen years of standing outside her door during passing time, after thirteen years of teaching English to constantly changing teenagers, after thirteen years of smiling and waving and brightening the hallways every day. She shakes her head when she talks about it. "It feels strange," she remarks. "But I knew I’m ready. It’s time." Cecilia Midthun was born in Chicago in 1937. She decided to be an English teacher after meeting Ernest Hemingway in high school, and began teaching at Le Sueur, despite the small age difference between her and her students. However, as time progressed, the difference increased, and Cecilia grew more comfortable with teaching. She loved it. After two years at Le Sueur, one in Hinsdale, Illinois, and three at a private girls’ school in Evanston, Illinois, she married Jack Horner, once her high school sweetheart, now a scientist. They settled in Oak Park, Illinois, and had three children: Kevin, Amy, and Allison. Mrs. Horner was away from teaching for twenty years while raising her children, but she never forgot that love of teaching. In 1964, the Horners moved to Ames. Jack accepted a position at Iowa State. Kevin, growing disgruntled with school, took up flying lessons and got his pilot’s license. Amy and Allison went to college in medicine and exercise science, respectively. And Cecilia, following her passion, started teaching again. Speech and drama at Iowa State and DMACC reignited her love of teaching. Years passed. Decades passed. Eventually, she decided to go full circle and teach high school English again. She started at Ames High in 1996, and never stopped. Mrs. Horner has taught Basic Composition, Advanced Composition, Speech 9, and most notably Honors English 10 here. She speaks highly of her students. "They have filled a void in my life that was made by my family leaving home," she said. "They have become my family." Along with working with the students and "very talented, innovative" staff, Mrs. Horner has especially loved hosting the interns from Turkey each year. "They help the students and me understand and appreciate their culture," she said." "They bring a new dimension of passion and creativity." What will Mrs. Horner do now? "I haven’t made any decisions yet," she said, although she does love to travel around the world with her family. Jack is now the director of the Electron Microscopy Center at ISU. Kevin is a pilot for American Airlines. Amy is a doctor in Wisconsin. Allison is the director of the Wellness Center at Conoco-Phillips in Oklahoma. "I didn’t tell them where to go," she said. "They went with their hearts." So, too, has young Miss Cecilia Midthun. And look where she is now, at least for a little while longer: this school, these halls, the family she loves. She smiles, waves. The hallways remain bright.