SEBRING - When the high school valedictorian opened her school locker one day, a college catalog fell out and caught the eye of a fellow senior at an adjacent locker.
After school, the student who noticed the catalog told her parents she was going to college.
That was Pat Landress.
One week before her high school graduation, Landress started college even though a few months earlier she thought she would never go to college nor become a teacher because there were too many educators in her family.
Forty-two years after taking her first teaching position, Landress reflected on her continuing career in education and her positive outlook despite having multiple sclerosis.
She is the School Board of Highlands County's director of student support services, a department that oversees both exceptional student education and student services.
In her office at the school board's district office complex, Landress pointed out a framed photograph of her first class, third-grade in 1972 at Avon Elementary School.
The glass is cracked in the picture frame and the image appears faded, but Landress' memory is sharp as she points out three students who she had to drive home on separate occasions to discuss with their parents their misbehavior.
The assistant principals focused on curriculum and there were no deans back then, so the classroom teachers handled the disciplinary problems on their own, she remembered.
Her first class was in a portable with no air-conditioning.
"I am talking back in the days," she said, "And, we worked an eight-hour day and we did not have duty-free lunch."
Landress said there have been many teachers in her family, including her great-grandmother, grandmother and mother.
It was the talk at the dinner table.
To punctuate the long family history in education, Landress summarized a line from her autobiography "Did I Miss the Station, The Journeys of My life:" "1880 my great-grandmother got on a train in Washington D.C. and rode that train to Fort Collins, Colo. to teach school and she was 22 years old."
Landress said she can't believe how a single woman would do that and teach in a one-room school house 10 miles out of town.
"I came from a family of social activists always wanting to make things better, so I think the two [teaching and social activism] just kind of went together," she said. "The family thought was 'the best way to change the world was to educate its people.'"
During Landress' tenure with the school district, she served as an ESE teacher, bilingual coordinator/assistant principal for ESE/staffing specialist (three jobs in one), assistant principal of Hopewell and Avon elementary schools concurrently, Hopewell Elementary principal, Fred Wild Elementary principal, Park Elementary principal, coordinator of elementary education, federal programs resource teacher and her current position as director of student support services.
She has a master's degree in special education.
"I think I always had a little something for kids who struggle," Landress said. "I was really good with teaching them and had a feel for them. So I feel like I am in my niche and I am happy with this job."
Landress has maintained an active career in education with challenging positions despite having multiple sclerosis since 1977.
Landress doesn't sleep well because she is thinking all the time, she said. While she was trying to fall asleep recently, she pondered whether her life would have been different if she didn't have the incurable disease.
"I thought about it for a while, and yes, there are some things that I can't do, but MS has not changed the person that I am, so I really don't think my life would be any different," Landress said. "Fortunately, I am a very positive person so I don't let this get me down."
Those who have seen Landress in the past 11 years or so know that she has remained active, but gets around with a mobility scooter.
She got her first scooter around 1996, but also walked with cane at times until she lost her balance in 2003.
"I had to kind of get used to driving this thing because everybody notices it," she said. "It didn't take me very long to not let it bother me at all. I couldn't work if I didn't have it."
She said kids, especially boys around 3 years old, are drawn to her scooter, because they like motors.
Landress doesn't have any plans to retire anytime soon.
"I am going to stay in this job until they drag my cold dead body out of here," she said. "I love this job and as long as the superintendent is satisfied I am going to keep doing it. I would really like to work until I am at least 70 or better.
"When the day comes when I can't get up out of bed and come to work or can't come here and do my job, I'll know that's the day to stop."