LEWISTON — Standing in front of Martel Elementary School fourth-graders Tuesday, in the room where she taught, Curriculum Director Janice Plourde smiled as she told students how she was hired in 1959.

She was asked only two questions before being hired as a Lewiston teacher, Plourde said.

“The first was, ‘Are you getting married?’ They wanted to be sure I was going to stay here. The second was, ‘What grade do you want?’ That was my interview,” she said.

She answered whatever grade was available, and “’No, I’m not getting married.” Two years later she married Alfred Plourde, who became mayor of Lewiston.

Her annual salary was $3,700. That bought a lot of things back then, Plourde said. The average price of a new home was $12,400, gas was 25 cents a gallon, a loaf of bread cost 20 cents, according to the website www.thepeoplehistory.com.

Plourde, 74, is retiring after 53 years of working for the Lewiston School Department.  Many of her former students are grandparents. She remembers scores of students by name.

As a tribute, Plourde was invited to teach Tuesday at Martel, where she went to school and began her career.

In the 1960s, she taught Maine history and literature through poetry by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, born in Portland in 1807.

“Poetry is telling stories,” she told the Martel students, and handed out copies of Longfellow’s background and one of his poems, “The Children’s Hour.”

She and the fourth-graders read the poem aloud. She urged them to look up information about Longfellow online, to read his other poems, especially “Paul Revere’s Ride,” and to visit the Paul Revere monument in Boston’s North End.

She ended the lesson by showing a large, framed picture of Longfellow’s daughters, Alice, Allegra and Edith. Students peered at it with interest.

Afterward, Martel Principal Steve Whitfield and former Superintendent Bob Connors praised Plourde. “We want to thank her for all she has done,” Connors said. “She’s been an important part of the Lewiston school system, and she hasn’t lost the ability to teach.”

Drew St. Hilaire, 10, agreed. Her lesson was “pretty cool, especially that picture she showed us.”

Plourde said she worked past the normal retirement age because “if you love what you do, it’s not work. I say to myself, ‘You’ve got to make it a good day.’ Kids, I love them.”

As curriculum director, it’s her job to support teachers, she said. “It has to be a collaboration.”

A widow, mother of two and grandmother of one, Plourde said she runs into former students frequently, such as Mike Gendron at Hannaford’s. “He lights up when he sees me, tells me everything he’s doing.”

Last year, a former student, who Plourde described as “not having much money,” came up to her to thank her for remedial reading help when the woman was in the sixth grade.

“She said, ‘A year with you, I’ve been a reader ever since.’ Yes!” Plourde said, giving two thumbs up. “That is probably the best compliment I ever got.”

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An open house celebrating Janice Plourde’s retirement will be held from 8:30 to 11 a.m. Tuesday, June 12, at the Dingley Building at 36 Oak St. in downtown Lewiston. All are invited.

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