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A career from a car

St. Thomas teacher retires after over five decades in the classroom

You could say that Barbara O'Brien was lured into the classroom. Over five decades later, she was still there.

As a recent College of St. Rose graduate with her heart set on moving to the big city, O'Brien and her family heard in church one day that the parish's school needed teachers.

When I went home, my father said he would help my buy a car if I took this job for one year and not move to New York [City], she said. "I've been teaching ever since."

That was in 1958. Last week, O'Brien retired after being an educator for over 50 years straight, 41 of them at St. Thomas the Apostle School in Delmar. During her time in classrooms in Rochester and the Capital District, she's not only seen the business of education change, but has influenced over 1,000 students.

Her former pupils have gone on to various stations, including a state attorney general, a publishing executive and a troubleshooter for General Electric who travels all over the world. She's taught students that have ended up at every major military academy in the country.

For O'Brien, a promise of a car and a shortage of teachers brought on by the baby boom generation got her into the job. Her colleagues and the kids kept her there.

"After the first year, I said, 'I really enjoy this,'" she said. "It grew on me."

This year was O'Brien's last at St. Thomas, where she has taught from third to eighth grade (she said teaching middle schoolers has been her favorite assignment). As an elementary school teacher she covered most every subject, but with the older students she focused on English and writing. That's really been her legacy, said Principal Tom Kane, who has been at St. Thomas for 11 years.

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