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A Life Lived: Mary Lou Wetzel as a teacher touched the lives of a lot of children

Someone has said that a child’s life is like a piece of paper on which every person leaves a mark.
Mary Lou Wetzel, who died July 29 from the coronavirus, taught kindergarten for 37 years — her first year at Valley Forge Elementary School and spent the remainder of her career at Cloudland Elementary. She left her imprint on a lot of little hearts as their first teacher.
She had a love for teaching, but her greater love was for children, especially those she had the joy of teaching and introducing to books, learning, and other children.
Holly Gouge in a tribute to Mary Lou summed it up well: “…No matter what the ‘system’ required to be taught in kindergarten, Ms. Wetzel knew what was important for kids to experience — fun, laughter, magic, holidays, and learning.”
Her sister, Sue Peters, also a teacher, shared that Mary Lou made learning fun. She enjoyed dressing up as a clown when they did a unit on the circus. “She loved her students and connected with them. Her students once grown up were always reminding her of things she taught them,” said Sue.
Mary Lou enjoyed life to the fullest. She enjoyed her teaching career, her family, and her church. “She enjoyed helping in Vacation Baptist School. For a number of years she attended East Side Baptist Church, but for sometime had attended Grace Baptist Church. She loved her church family and was all the time sending cards, making telephone calls, and visiting,” said Sue.
Mary Lou had a special love affair with books — most teachers do. Among her favorite authors was Nicholas Sparks. In her college years, she worked at the Elizabethton Public Library and made a bunch of friends there.
“She was a people person, and through the years had made friends with so many people. When she went to the Wal-Mart, she was always stopping to talk with someone she knew,” said Sue.
“Mary Lou lived at the family homeplace, and I lived six houses down the street from her. Her nieces and nephews loved her. Their pet name for her was ‘Mimi.’ She and I often ate together; sometimes we would go out and eat. Her favorite place to eat out was the Pizza Inn,” Sue shared. Her favorite pizza — Chocolate Chip.
Another favorite thing she did with her sister was shop. “About once a week we went shopping to Johnson City or to Hambrick’s. She didn’t buy alot, but she liked to look and was always on the lookout for people who she might know,” said Sue.
Mary Lou enjoyed her school friends, and they often got together for lunch.
However, her first love was her students and her nieces and nephews. “She was very entertaining with them, but she could be firm,” said Sue.
Mary Lou was a member of the Carter County-Elizabethton Retired Teachers Association and a member of the DAR. “She enjoyed genealogy and was especially proud of her roots,” said Sue.
Mary Lou was the daughter of the late George and Grace Wetzel, who formerly owned Wetzel Cleaners in Elizabethton. In addition to Sue, she had two brothers, Tommy and Fred, both of whom are deceased.
I noticed a small plaque this week which read: “A good teacher takes a hand, opens a mind, and touches a heart.” Mary Lou Wetzel did just that in her long teaching career. As a teacher, she not only taught countless children how to read, but how to interact with others, and how to have fun living. She for sure made a mark on the lives of a lot of children.