August 1, 2009
Friends in class, educators in the classroom
Retiring Homer art teachers end careers in the district where they became friends
HOMER — Rona Knobel and Eleanor “Corky” Wrisley met in kindergarten at Homer Elementary School, and their love of art and their hometown led them to return to Homer and teach art later in life.
This summer, Knobel and Wrisley both retired from Homer Central School District. Knobel taught art at Homer High School for 35 years, and Wrisley taught art at the elementary school for 27 years.
Wrisley has inspired young students to think creatively, and Knobel has helped many of the same students to develop portfolios of college-level art when they move on to high school.
They both have fond memories of growing up together in Homer, even though the social norms of the time held them back from the professional art careers that they envisioned having.
“We had a great time going to school, and we both wanted to give back, and I’m proud of what we accomplished,” Knobel said.
Knobel and Wrisley, who declined to give their ages, remember meeting each other on the first day of kindergarten. Wrisley was hanging upside down on a set of monkey bars inside the classroom with her dress hanging over her head. Knobel thought she seemed like a fun person and introduced herself.
While they were in high school, Knobel wanted to become a professional book illustrator, and Wrisley wanted to be a textile fabric fashion designer.
But these kinds of careers were unacceptable for women at the time, Knobel said.
Their high school guidance counselor discouraged girls from becoming anything other than teachers, nurses or housewives, Wrisley said.
But it was money, not a guidance counselor, that prevented Knobel and Wrisley from going to private art schools. They both had to pay for their own college tuition, and state colleges were the only ones they thought they could afford. Knobel went to Buffalo State College, and Wrisley went to SUNY New Paltz.
They both studied education, because it was the only field of study that state colleges were offering at the time, Knobel said.
Although she never became an illustrator, Knobel said she has helped many high school students to get into prestigious art schools and go onto careers in jewelry making, fashion design, graphic design, architecture, engineering and medicine.
Knobel had one student who planned to become a surgeon and wanted to develop an art portfolio to show medical schools.
Knobel said she always encouraged students who had a passion for art to pursue it, “but be mindful of a career.”
Artists must find an effective way to market themselves or find a second job that puts food on the table, she said.
Knobel became the set designer and technical director for the high school’s plays and musicals in 1984, and she has been the director and choreographer for all of the musicals and plays in the school since 1998. Wrisley assisted her with many of the plays.
Being a director influenced Knobel to become an actor, too. She often performs in plays at the Cortland Repertory Theatre in Little York.
“I felt that if I really wanted to be able to direct my students, I had to be an actor myself,” Knobel said.
Wrisley said that she fulfilled her dream of being a textile fabric designer by running a quilt program at the elementary school. Wrisley and students from each grade make quilts every year and donate them to local hospitals. Wrisley said they have made between 18 and 21 quilts.
“We (Rona and I) really kind of realized our dreams but kind of in a backdoor way,” Wrisley said.
This year, Knobel spent the final three months of her career overseeing the creation of a literary mural outside of the library at Homer High School. The mural was painted by Knobel’s art students after Knobel secured a grant to pay for the necessary supplies. Students in the English department described iconic literary characters, and Knobel’s students used their descriptions to interpret how the characters would look and paint them.
Wrisley said she enjoyed her teaching career more than she thinks she would have enjoyed a career as a fashion designer.
“I’m happy with having taught,” Wrisley said. “I don’t regret a minute of my teaching career.”
Knobel said she felt that returning to Homer to teach was her calling.
“I have a loyalty to this school district,” Knobel said. “I still dream about the elementary school. I still dream about walking through the halls.”
Both teachers said they will miss teaching, but they will have more time to pursue their own projects.
Knobel said she plans to act, direct musicals for theater companies or local schools and take hot glass-blowing classes at Corning Glass Factory.
Wrisley said she plans to make quilts on a new quilting machine in a new art studio in her home.
“The coming school year will be the first year since the 1940s that a Homer graduate will not work in the district’s art department,” Knobel said.
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