Olive Leskow

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Olive Leskow 2014.jpg


The first thing that strikes you about her is her face: one is instantly reminded of a Russian matrushka doll but with snow white, curly, flyaway hair in place of the traditional babushka.

But don’t let that doll-like face fool you; behind the sweet smile is a razor-sharp mind even at the age of 95. She knows who, what, when and how and is always demanding why with that analytic mind that has both edited and authored school textbooks. Her cheeks blushing prettily, Miss Leskow admits to being the educator who is internationally credited for developing the system of teaching from transparencies using an overhead projector as one of the many innovations made during her career.

A native of the Midtown area of Gary surrounding Friedrich Froebel School, Miss Leskow received her high school diploma from that school in 1938 and completed her bachelor’s degree in teaching from Ball State Teacher’s College (now University) in 1941. She chose to teach mathematics because of an interest in geometry that was piqued during her Ball State years. Her masters’ degree dissertation (which she proudly displayed) is entitled “An Experimental Study of Seventh Grade Arithmetic,” and the degree was awarded to her in 1947. She holds her Master of Science degree in the double fields of Education and Psychiatry from the University of Minnesota.

Her teaching career began at Gary’s Ralph Waldo Emerson School in 1942, where she taught English to sixth-grade pupils. One of her most recent happy times came about when a student from that first class made a special trip to see her at her current residence. It turns out that he had been “one of those kids,” as she described him, but with her pushing his natural curiosity he suddenly blossomed academically. When he came to see her not long ago, he brought her a certificate of thanks for encouraging him enough that he earned his own degree at Harvard University. (Author’s note: he was well into his 70’s when he came to visit her, but he was still “one of her students.”)

Miss Leskow didn’t join the faculty at Lew Wallace until the early 1960’s, but once she did, she became one of the backbones of the school. She taught her favored geometry during school hours and began tinkering in the brand-new field of computer programming in her spare time. She recalls teaching the first computer skills classes at Lew Wallace in the 1970’s, and has never lost that enthusiasm for what we now consider a normal household or workplace item. Miss Leskow and her dearest friend, her sister Sonia, began their computer training at the Illinois Institute of Technology, each receiving a two-year degree in computer science. Miss Olive joyously recounts the various intensive courses she would take during the summer break between school sessions, receiving grants to travel everywhere from the prestigious Dartmouth College in New Hampshire (where she was the only person attending who did not hold a medical degree in psychiatry) to Fargo, North Dakota.

She points out with pride that for seven of her years at Lew Wallace, she taught classes that included “exceptional” children. No, not the gifted brainiacs she would get from time to time, but these were students who had seeing, walking, hearing, speaking, and some other disabilities. The students also were not segregated out of being in a “normal” classroom. Showing her quick-witted, innate teaching skills, she recollects the day a sight-impaired young man sat in her geometry class. Miss Leskow and the rest of the students were discussing line segments, and the young man with the disability raised his hand and complained that he couldn’t, without seeing, fathom what she to what she was making reference. Anyone who has worked with disabled children will find themselves smiling when she goes on to report that she used a sheet of paper, edge folded and refolded to demonstrate the way a line can be divided into segments. Only a quick and compassionate mind can think that quickly as to not insult the differing abilities of students. She retired from teaching in 1985, after 20-odd years at Lew Wallace High School. She and her sister then traveled together and supported their church in many ways.

Recently, Miss Leskow was honored by the Delta Kappa Gamma Society with their “Women of Distinction” award. She has also been greatly honored by her alma mater, Ball State University, with their “Wings of Beneficence” award, presented in appreciation of her many contributions to the school. Proudly displayed on her countertop is the etched crystal award piece which is a replica of the Daniel Charles French statue, Beneficence, on the Ball State campus.

Miss Leskow’s family were Russian immigrants to the fledgling city of Gary, Indiana, where they raised their family. Her father had left pre-Revolutionary Russia after serving in a special marching cadre assigned to Tsar Nicholas II. The Bolshevik Revolution made it impossible for the parents to ever return, but Olive and Sonia visited Russia twice, exploring the homeland of their parents. She is the sole surviving member of her immediate family after Sonia’s death in 2008.

To sum up Olive Leskow, one need go no further than the words used by a teaching colleague: “She was (during her career) an innovator and role model for younger teachers.” Even today, she is assisting in the editing process of a new manuscript about the history of Gary. She has touched the lives of so many who thrived under her teaching at Lew Wallace and other Gary schools, and her mind and attitude reflect the pride of those accomplishments.

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