December 3, 2005
35 Railroad Street Plymouth OH 44865 12/6/2005 14:00:00
35 Railroad Street Plymouth OH 44865 12/7/2005 11:00:00
Emma Port, who taught first-grade classes in Plymouth Elementary School for three decades and was a pillar of Plymouth’s Methodist church, died in her sleep before dawn on Saturday, December 3rd. She had celebrated her 93rd birthday last spring.
Her funeral will be at Secor Funeral Home, 35 Railroad St. in Plymouth, on Wednesday, December 7th, at 11:00 AM, followed by church services at a later date. Friends may call at the funeral home on Tuesday, December 6th, from 2:00 to 4:00 p.m. and 6:00 to 8:00 p.m. In lieu of flowers, the family suggests a donation in Emma’s name to a favorite charity or Plymouth United Methodist Church, 30 Sandusky St., Plymouth 44865.
Emma is survived by her three children–Otis, LaVonne, and Karen–five grandchildren, and four great-grandchildren. She lost her husband, Fred, in 1976 and one grandchild, Terri Pitzen Elliott, in 1998. Otis, age 68, is a writer for Business Week magazine and lives in New York City with his wife, Theresa. LaVonne, 63, took early retirement in 2000 from Donnelley & Sons and lives with her husband, James Pitzen, on Opdyke Road, south of Plymouth. And Karen Baumler, 59, is a nurse in Boiling Springs, S.C. Her husband, John, died in January 2005.
Born Emma Sophia Hole to Charles and Mary Hole on April 13, 1912, Emma began teaching Plymouth first graders in 1944, while World War 2 was still raging. But that wasn’t her first teaching job. In July 1935, just after earning a teacher’s certificate from Ashland College (now University), she was hired to teach in a one-room school in Centerton, Norwich Township. Her starting salary was $800–for the whole school year. She retired in 1974 but continued to tutor youngsters for two more decades.
At her 90th birthday party in 2002, at the Plymouth Heritage Society, a former student asked if she could still snap her fingers. Emma obliged–but couldn’t quite muster the resounding “pop” that once brought instant silence to noisy classrooms. All told, including the children she taught in Sunday school, her pupils numbered more than 1,500.
Nurturing the spiritual well-being of youth and adults was equally important to Emma. After Sunday school, she would don a robe and sing in the choir. For a half-century, she watched over church finances as treasurer and represented Plymouth at the annual Northeast Ohio Methodist conferences at Lakeside. Emma also helped start the Upstairs Store to provide clothes and other essentials to Plymouth’s needy.
At church dinners and other fund-raising affairs, Emma was a tireless worker. Her pies always sold out quickly at bake sales. Until 1973, when she and husband Fred sold their farm on Route 61 just north of Plymouth, her baking day would start with picking the apples and collecting fresh eggs for her apple and custard pies.
Emma married Fred C. Port, a former resident of Cleveland, in 1936. He was 41, 18 years older than Emma. It wasn’t always smooth sailing for Emma’s family. During World War 2, Fred and and his brother, Jack, were forced to sell the machine shop they founded in Shiloh, now called Voisard Manufacturing. Customers evaporated after the Port brothers were accussed of being Nazi spies. Why? Because they were the sons a German emigrant and regularly conversed in German–especially when they didn’t want Emma to know what they were saying. After the war, Fred became the school janitor in Plymouth.
It’s amazing to consider how much progress Emma witnessed in her lifetime. She grew up on the Hole homestead near Boughtonville, Ohio. It had no electricity or running water, and transportation was by horse and buggy. When the Holes bought their first car, Emma didn’t have to pass a test for a driver’s license. She just ordered one from the Sears & Roebuck catalog. Life was clearly a lot simpler back then.
Even so, Emma’s reaction when she first ventured beyond the borders of Ohio in 1947 is almost incomprehensible today. She was driving the family to visit relatives in Holland, Mich. After passing the “Welcome to Michigan” sign, she pulled over and stared out the window, perplexed. When Otis asked what she was looking at, Emma said, “I thought the trees and plants would be different when we crossed over into Michigan–that maybe there’d be a fence or a wall at the border.”
Emma went on to become a world traveler. On one trip to Britain, she tracked down her grandfather’s home in Cornwall and walked among the huge upright stones at Stonehenge; another time, she explored the Highlands of Scotland and visited Iona, the Scottish island from whence Irish monks brought Christianity to Britain. She traversed the Swiss Alps and the Canadian Rockies. She stood on Holland’s mighty dikes, then followed the Rhine River and Germany’s Romantik Road to the castles of Bavaria that inspired Disneyland. She marveled at Greek temples in Sicily and Athens. She tossed a coin into Rome’s Trevi Fountain and rode the elevator up the Eiffel Tower in Paris. In the shadow of Egypt’s Great Pyramids, she climbed onto a camel. And she spent a week in Jerusalem, tracing Christ’s footsteps.
She took her granddaughters to see the skyscrapers of New York and, while there, watched as Neil Armstrong became the first human to set foot on the moon. From horse and buggy to humanity’s venture into space, Emma witnessed it all. It was a memorable life.