For 40 years, Betty Stein has been synonymous with the Fort Wayne Community Schools Middle School Speech Contest.
This year was no different than many preceding ones. Stein sat with the 11 middle school contestants who stood up to give speeches on a range of topics: the benefits of listening to music in the classroom, legalization of medical marijuana, cyberbullying, the death penalty and cosmetic surgery, to name a few.
After that, Stein rose to rate the speakers, delivering her remarks in an encouraging manner.
"The topics have gotten better and better," she said.
At one point, she stopped to praise not just the speakers but their instructors.
"I think it’s high time for a round of applause for the teachers," the 99-year-old, fashionably dressed Stein said. And applaud they did.
Since it was the 40th year for the speech contest started by Stein, FWCS decided to make it a special event. There was a plaque, but other things too. Out came a large calla lily, a box of DeBrand chocolates and a gift card to her favorite restaurant, Anastasia’s. The traveling trophy given to the winning student’s school each year was also renamed the Betty Stein Award in her honor.
"I’m thrilled," said Stein, surrounded by FWCS colleagues and friends.
Tara Christen, FWCS speech contest coordinator and language arts teacher at Northwood Middle School, said Stein still works in the schools and will coach any student on speech and delivery who wants it. Stein was praised by staff for her elegance, style and quick wit.
Stein started her teaching career in language arts and social studies at Fairfield Junior High School in 1965, she said, and 13 years later moved to Memorial Park Middle School as an assistant to the principal and curriculum coordinator.
She got into teaching after Sister Fridian at the University of Saint Francis suggested she get her teaching certificate, Stein said. She was working on a master’s degree at the time.
"She’s wonderful," said Diane Phillips, science and social studies teacher at Lakeside Middle School, whose student, Dahiro Omar, came in second with her speech on cyberbullying.