Tessa R. Thibodeau
1885 – 1971
Tessa Thibodeau was a long-time and much-loved third grade teacher in Norway. She was born on September 10, 1885, living here her entire life. Tessa was the third of seven children born to Thomas and Carrie Cummings Thibodeau. The young family lived with Carrie’s parents, who owned a livery stable on Danforth Street.
In 1894, tragedy struck the Thibodeau family. In late April, Carrie died, leaving an infant daughter who passed away a short time later. The baby was buried on the morning of May 9. That afternoon, the fire that destroyed much of downtown Norway started. As the fire spread uncontrolled down Main Street, it took the Thibodeau’s home, as well as the tannery where Thomas worked, along with scores of other businesses and residences.
Tessa graduated from Norway High School in 1903, with a class of 22 students. She was one of four speakers at graduation, delivering an essay on “The Beauties of Nature.” Tessa’s teaching career began in district (country) schools. A former student at the Noble’s Corner school in North Norway remembered Tessa as an enthusiastic teacher who brought other interests, including music and art, to the country school.
In 1910, Tessa was offered the third grade in the Norway school, a position she held until her retirement 39 years later. The third grade classes were always large, as they were made up of pupils advancing from three primary schools. One year in the late teens, Tessa’s class of at least 40 students moved to the basement of the Congregational Church, a location completely unsuitable for a classroom. 1947 was the last year teacher’s salaries were published in the town report; Tessa’s salary was $1620 for teaching a class of 35. In 1949, her last year as a teacher, she had a class of 42.
Tessa’s students were well prepared for their next grade. She was a no-nonsense teacher, but was creative and had many ideas to keep the pupils interested. She once held a “Poverty Party,” where students had one utensil, either a knife, fork, or spoon, to eat with. Their plate was a newspaper. She was a dedicated teacher, who was loyal to the town and the school. Tessa’s sense of humor was often directed at herself. In later years, she lived in a small apartment on Danforth Street, which she referred to as “the old gray mare’s stable.”
Tessa died on October 8, 1971 after only three days in a nursing home. Her graveside service was on a rainy day, prompting the minister to comment “Tessa would have loved this; she would say now she knew who her real friends were.”
Her influence and spirit extend beyond her passing. A scholarship in her name is given each year to a graduate of Oxford Hills Comprehensive High School, more than 40 years after her death. Miss Tessa Thibodeau is still remembered with fondness and admiration.