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Profile in Excellence: Twins Sadie and Madie Gardner Cause a Ripple Effect

July 20, 2011

OBU transforms lives by equipping students to pursue academic excellence. Identical twins Madie and Sadie Gardner arrived on Bison Hill having learned the noble pursuit of academic excellence from their father.

Born June 11, 1914, near Texhoma, Okla., to Jason Everett and May Lowery Gardner, the twins and their siblings -- older sister and brother, Lorene and J.E., and younger brother, Cap -- learned about the importance of hard work, honesty and respect for country and fellow man.

A love for learning and a genuine, compassionate interest in people is a standard the sisters passed on not only to their own families, but also to thousands of students during their 40-year teaching careers. Many young teachers have, in turn, passed these values on to their own students in honor of the twins. The ripple effect of the two pixie-sized teachers has reached countless lives.

As they recently celebrated their 97th birthday, the sisters could look back on lives marked by service and care. After attending a one-room school for first through eighth grades in the Oklahoma Panhandle, they attended Texhoma High School. It was too far to walk to school, and the Depression made everything more difficult, so the girls lived with separate families in town while cooking, cleaning, doing laundry and caring for children to earn their keep.

Sadie and Madie graduated from high school as valedictorian and salutatorian, respectively. Because she was valedictorian, Sadie received a two-year scholarship to OBU - but she would not go without Madie. To allow the two sisters to attend college together, First Baptist Church of Texhoma provided tuition for Madie for two years. The sisters once again worked for their room and board.

In those days, a person could teach with only two years of college education. After two years at OBU, Madie began teaching in a rural one-room school at Keokuk, Okla., to pay for Sadie's tuition. While there, Madie earned $70 a month for teaching and $3 for janitorial work. She used the janitor pay to purchase school supplies for the children, because many could not afford them due to the Depression. After Sadie completed her degree at OBU, she began teaching in Trousdale, Okla., to pay for Madie's tuition at OBU. The sisters graduated together in 1939.

During her 10-year tenure at Trousdale, Sadie taught third and fourth grades, and ninth-grade English and world history. While there, she met her future husband, Fraser Blanton, on a blind date. They married three years later, and would eventually have three daughters, now Carolyn Barrett, a 1968 OBU graduate; Peggy Gass; and Barbara Glorioso.

"You were always my favorite teacher during my first years at Trousdale," Murry Perkins wrote Sadie with greetings on her 94th birthday. A retired University of Chicago engineer, Perkins worked on the Mars "Rover" exploration instrument. "It's because of you and your sincere and serious approach to teaching that I am what I am today! I'm sure that things would be entirely different for me otherwise."

In 1947, Sadie moved with her husband to New Orleans, where they lived for the next 32 years. He would become a naval hero, Commander Blanton. Sadie attended graduate school at Tulane University. She taught fourth grade for 30 years at New Orleans Academy, an elite boys' military school. She made a lasting impression on many people with her sparkling blue eyes and her listening ear.

"She just had a peace about her, a gentleness that was so evident," recalled David Barrett, a member of OBU's Class of 1967, who met Sadie when he visited his future wife -- her daughter -- in New Orleans. "Although she was (and still is) the size of a pixie, I sensed a giant of a woman. When I was around her, she made me feel so important and special. Thirty years later I realize that she has the same effect on everyone who knows her."

In 1978, Sadie was named Outstanding Teacher of the Year, and the New Orleans Academy yearbook was dedicated to her. She is a lifetime member of Delta Kappa Gamma and Eastern Star. While in New Orleans, she was a Sunday School teacher for adults and teenagers for many years and active in Woman's Missionary Union. She also served 20 years as the Vacation Bible School director for Highland Baptist Church in Metairie, La.

After retirement in 1978, Sadie and Fraser returned to Oklahoma and settled in Shawnee. They were married for 45 years before his death in 1985. Sadie is a member of Immanuel Baptist Church in Shawnee.

Following her graduation from OBU, Madie returned to the Panhandle to teach at rural Unity School about 17 miles west of Guymon, Okla. Because she was a certified teacher, she made $100 a month for the nine-month school year. In addition to teaching, she cleaned the building -- a challenge with the Panhandle dust and winds -- and some days she shoveled out buckets of dirt. She also cooked lunch, teaching the seventh- and eighth-grade home economics class to cook and serve stew and hot chocolate for the meal.

The school was the center of the social activity for the community. Madie met her future husband, James E. Shaffer, at a box supper. They were married in August 1942, and farmed and ranched in the Unity community. They would have two daughters, now Jane Ann Locklear and Cindy Williams. Madie excelled at creating community celebrations for holidays and other important dates, said her former student, Elois Baker Nowels.

"Madie Ann Shaffer's guiding, counseling, caring nature positively impacted my life as it did with all who came in contact with her," Nowels said. "She was a master teacher even before there was an officially recognized title."

One of Madie's gifts was making every child feel as though he or she were her favorite student. She learned every child's name before the school year began, and then never forgot them, even years later. Many teachers have expressed they chose a career in education due to the calm, nurturing spirit they witnessed in Madie. One student said she taught students to read and write "with the gentleness of an angel."

"Madie has had a profound spiritual impact on my life," said Melinda Powell Veres, whose family has known Madie for more than 70 years. "She was dedicated to the study of the Word and exemplified the Proverbs 31 Christian woman."

Madie taught at Unity for 10 years; at Guymon for 28 years; and, after retiring in 1979, continued to substitute teach for another 20 years, finally retiring in 1999 at age 85. She was honored in Oklahoma City as a 50-year active member of Delta Kappa Gamma. She is a member of the Oklahoma Retired Educators of Texas County and First Baptist Church in Guymon. In 1974, she was named Guymon Teacher of the Year and Texas County Teacher of the Year. She was 2010 Queen of the Pioneer Days Parade in Guymon.

Madie and James were married 59 years before his death in 2001. She still lives in Guymon.

The Sadie and Madie Gardner family is an OBU family by education and service. As their father encouraged them to get a good education, the twins also encouraged their children and grandchildren. All are college graduates, and most have advanced degrees. Four daughters and one granddaughter followed as teachers. Two granddaughters work with international missions organizations.

The twins' younger brother, Cap Gardner, received OBU's Meritorious Service Award in 1996 as an administrator for the OBU Physical Plant from 1947-96. His wife, Wanda, worked in the OBU Bookstore from 1964-92.

Sadie and Madie's family said OBU provided the opportunity for them to prepare to live amazing lives of service in their roles as educators, wives, mothers and Christian women -- and to encourage countless others in the same noble pursuits.

Click the following link to view a full list of previous Profile in Excellence recipients.