Friday, April 20, 2007


Tomorrow I will be attending a funeral.
My Aunt Debbie's friend, and former teacher, died this week from Breast Cancer.
I was over at Debbie's tonight... she was practicing the eulogy that she had written and will be delivering tomorrow. It gave me chills...
My mother was diagnosed with Breast Cancer this time last year. Luckily, it was caught in the early stages, and she is now cancer-free.
Barbara was not so lucky.
I feel so sorry for her children. They are young adults now. They lost their father in a car accident when they were toddlers, and now their mother is gone, too.
I can't even imagine what they must be going through.
Please keep this family in your prayers.

Barbara Smith Ripple
August 20, 1948 - April 17, 2007

In the fall of 1971 my junior class at Marshall High School was about to meet a young teacher that would have a lasting impact on many of our lives. On our first day of classes, we walked into the gymnasium, and there…..standing approximately 5’5’’ tall and weighing maybe 100 pounds was our new gym coach, Miss Smith. She wore white cotton shorts, a tennis shirt, and matching white tennis shoes. Sporting the newest hairstyle of the perky flip and wearing what would become her signature short socks with the pink fluffy balls on the back,…. my classmates and I knew immediately that this powerhouse was a force to be reckoned with! Every morning……first block,…. 8:00 o’clock sharp….. without fail….. she fixed upon us…. her steely blue gaze…. and commanded… “Ladies, we are running the track today….Let’s go! We were amazed that even with all her movements and exaggerated gestures…….not a single piece of her perfectly coiffed flip ever moved.
Today, many students seem to loathe gym. But back then, believe or not, we LOVED it! We proudly slipped on our attractive? snapped-front crimson gym suits complete with matching crimson shorts and white Converse tennis shoes and did anything Miss Smith asked. We agreed to square dance, play flag football, spike volleyballs, run high hurdles, and even pole vault! I still remember the time I was attempting a spin on the uneven parallel bars, which were not quite high enough for my tall frame. During the dismount, my ankles hit the gym floor, stopping me immediately. Not missing a beat, but cracking a slight smile, Miss Smith ordered, “Okay, McDonough,…. let’s get up and try that again!”

While the stories of our athletic prowess may not have been extraordinary, we made up for these deficiencies in school spirit. Miss Smith, a recent Mizzou graduate bought her Tiger spirit to Marshall. She was not only our gym coach, she became the HEART of our school. She sponsored the cheerleaders, the pep club, the pom- pom squad, and girls’ intramural. (This was back in a time when there were very few organized sports for girls.) During homecoming week in 1972, the town folks must have been a bit alarmed by our school’s front parking lot. Students were gleefully wielding sledge hammers demolishing a wrecked vehicle painted in our rival’s school colors. Whose crazy idea was this?....... Miss Smith’s…. and WE loved it! Convincing us that our class needed to win the coveted “spirit stick” (a broom handle painted in Marshall’s school colors), Miss Smith suggested we gather in the main hallway at the end of each class to see who could chant the loudest for our Marshall High School Owls! Throughout the corridors and probably all the way to the town square, you could here the “Whoo, Whoo…..Who are we!” Administrators emerged from their offices asking who was responsible for this disturbance?........ Miss Smith was….. and SHE loved it!
During the winter of 1972, rumors were circulating and it was sweet music to our teenage ears--Miss Smith and Coach Dan Rippel were an item. We waited patiently for the perfect embarrassing moment to let Miss Smith know….. we were in on the secret. Just before the start of a basketball game with students, faculty, and local townspeople crowding the small gymnasium, we waited for Miss Smith’s arrival. As she entered the gym, with her perfectly, perky flip and her determined gate, a low, but steady chant became a rousing, reverberating cheer…. “Rip…Rip…Rippel!...........Rip…Rip….Rippel! She smiled knowingly, but kept her composure and seated herself amongst us.
Thirty years and many life-chapters since, Barbara and I reconnected when I decided to return to Columbia. After complaining to Barbara for several evenings about how I should handle my rowdy high school English class, she offered her advice. “Tomorrow when you walk into that classroom you tell them…… Ladies and gentlemen,…… Hell has just frozen over!” Although I never used the line, I never forgot its intent. Barbara always knew who she was, and she didn’t want me to forget who I was either.

Today and for many days to come we will continue to share our stories about Barbara. I believe that God has joyously welcomed her into his Kingdom. I believe she has finally been reunited with her beloved Dan. I believe that she stands before God with her infectious enthusiasm, perfectly coiffed perky flip and pink fluffy ball socks. And….. I believe that in the next few days….. if you are still and listen…… you might just hear an angelic chanting…. ….Rip…Rip…Rippel!........Rip….Rip….Rippel! You may even hear her reply……”Ladies….we are running the track today…….Let’s go!!!!!


CrazyDeb said...

This had me laughing and tearing up. Debbie has written a beautiful piece for a seemingly beautiful woman. It brought back memories of my high school gym teacher who married our coach - yes that was in 1970 & 71 so Debbie is a year younger than I am. This eulogy will move the family without doubt and they will be grateful Debbie is there.

On another note I am so thankful your mom is cancer free. She is one very special lady with a beautiful smile and wonderful heart.

Thanks for sharing!

Alpha Dude 1.5 said...

Nicely done.
She seems like one terrific lady.

Bless you Erin.

SOULMANGE: said...

i am soooo sorry for this loss, to all who knew and loved her. sounds like a lovely woman, with a lovely spirit.
ya know... while i was reading about her ; and her effect on her school and the moral of the students..... the first thing that came to my mind was how the world would view those methods of teaching in todays society. she had such a great positive impact on so many young people. she gave them strength, laughter, heart, and a reason to work hard. and obviously, she left left her mark on their souls forever.
but... today... even though, her methods proved to be positive for her students, and her school.... today... i believe that they would be looked upon as violent..such as beating a car, etc. it would open her life to character assassination. and perhaps quell her lively spirit, and desire to share it with so many young people.
that, is unfortunate. but, luckily she didn't teach those students in todays world, and in so doing... there are a lot of adults, teaching their children , what they learned, and how they changed because of from her, .... and perhaps her spirit will continue to live on...and on.
like i've said... people just never know how much they can impact someones' world. many times, it is a lot more than they could ever dream.
i'll put a sock in it now.
sorry for the babbling. sometimes i just can't shut up.

DSB said...

Wow, I felt like I knew her just from reading that!

(I remember those spirit sticks from when I attended cheerleader camp as a young girl...wonder whatever happened to them? They weren't used during my high school years.)

That is so wonderful that your mother was able to beat it. I don't know what I'd do without mine.