PERSONAL JOURNEY: Teaching was always their connection

Now retired, couple landed first classroom jobs in the 1960s.

Jean and Milt Plunkett knew early on that they wanted to be teachers.

Jean was born and raised on a farm in Millersport and Milt was born in Troy and also raised on a farm. They were destined to meet as young teachers starting their careers.

“There weren’t a lot of opportunities for girls who wanted careers in those days,” said Jean, who graduated from high school in 1961, said. “I knew I didn’t want to be a farmer, I wanted to be a teacher.”

In Jean’s high school class, only five went on to college and of those, two were women. Jean decided on Ohio State, even though everyone who knew her believed she’d be home after the first semester.

“I wanted to teach home economics,” Jean said. “I remember thinking that OSU was big, but I loved it from the start.”

Jean’s strength and courage surely came from a childhood tragedy. When she was 10 years old, she was severely burned by a fire she had accidentally set, thinking she was helping her father to burn brush on the farm.

“My mom ran out, wrapped me up and put the fire out,” Jean said. “But I was burned over 80% of my body.”

Jean remained in the hospital for three months, enduring skin grafts and other painful procedures. And though she missed her entire fourth-grade year at school, she managed to catch up when she returned to school.

After graduating from OSU in 1965, Jean wanted to follow her friends to Mackinaw Island, Michigan, to enjoy a break. Her father, however, had different ideas and pushed her to get a job right away. She was hired by the Indian Lake School District after interviewing over the phone.

“While I was in my first year of teaching, everyone was talking about this young coach named Milt Plunkett,” Jean said. “He invited me to a football game in Ansonia and picked me up in his 1965 Impala convertible.”

Milt, who had graduated from Ohio University in 1964, had always had a passion for basketball. He was hired by Indian Lake after applying for jobs at other small schools.

“Indian Lake needed a health and physical education teacher, so I took the job,” Milt said. “They paid me $4,400 a year back then.”

When he met Jean, he was smitten, but Jean was still dating others. Then Jean was offered a job at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth. Jean told Milt and his response was short and to the point.

“I think we should get married!”

Jean said yes and their wedding was in August of 1966. At the same time, Milt’s mother was living by herself in Bethel and Milt wanted to move closer to her. The couple applied together to both Wayne School district in Huber Heights and the Mad River district in Dayton.

“Huber said no because we were getting married,” Jean said. “The theory at the time was if something happened to either one of us, we’d both be out!”

Milt and Jean were hired to teach at Mad River for the 1966-1967 school year. Milt taught seventh- and eighth-grade science (he had a minor in the field), and Jean taught home economics at Stebbins High School. The couple moved to Huber Heights. Then in 1969, tired of being stopped by trains on their commute to work, the couple moved to the Beavercreek house they still live in today.

In 1969, their first child, Todd, was born and Jean’s plan was to stay home with him. But like most plans, that one didn’t work out quite the way the couple thought it would.

“We figured out, there aren’t that many home economics teaching jobs around because people don’t leave those jobs,” Jean said. “There were teachers waiting for my job, so we figured if I didn’t go back, we’d end up qualifying for food stamps!”

The Plunketts had two more children, Rob, born in 1973 and Melanie, born in 1976. Jean had moved over to Spinning Hills Junior High when it was new in 1969 but ended up back at Stebbins when the ninth grade returned to the high school. Meanwhile, Milt continued to teach science and coach basketball at the junior high level.

All along the way, the couple made a huge impression on their students. Milt retired from teaching in 1994 and Jean in 1999, finishing out her career at Stebbins High School. The couple, now both in their 80′s, continue close relationships with their Stebbins students and started attending reunions after members from the class of 1983 and 1978 invited them.

“We were both strict teachers and demanded a lot from our students,” Jean said. “It’s so validating to hear from them about how we really taught them something and to see how well they are doing.”

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