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Adella Steiner Oyer

• 12th in our series of outstanding Bluffton High School alumni • A pioneer female teacher, she was the first-ever married women hired at Bluffton

• Widowed, she raised five step-children each excelling in their professions

Adella Steiner Oyer’s teaching career begin at age 21 in a one-room rural Richland Township school, driving a horse and buggy to school each day. By the end of her career she had attained an impressive 37 ½ years of teaching, which at the time was the greatest number of teaching years accumulated by any Bluffton teacher.

Adella Steiner Oyer

Dec. 6, 1900 – Nov. 27, 1964

Bluffton High School class of 1920


Of her teaching years three were in Richland Township rural country schools ­– one year at Hillville school and two at Phillips school.


Those teaching duties included:

• arriving prior to school to light the potbelly stove • cleaning the school room after students left for the day

• a combination of miscellaneous responsibilities including playground duty

• teaching eight grades at once – with up to three dozen students in the room


Adella's senior photograph

Her remaining teaching years were in Bluffton. There she taught 22 years in the old Bluffton elementary and 12 ½ years in the original wing of the current elementary.


In her first two years in Bluffton she taught mixed fourth and fifth grade classes, certainly a relief after teaching eight grades at once.

Those early classes had up to 35 students. Following those first two years, she taught fourth grade until her retirement in 1964.


It should be no surprise that she explained in an early 1960s Bluffton PTA meeting that students of today have more access to learning than their parents had. She experienced that first-hand.


Beyond her three-decade teaching tenure, she was a Bluffton female teaching pioneer. In an era when only unmarried woman were hired as teachers, she was the very first woman the Bluffton school board hired who didn’t fit that description. Her marital description was unusual, explained later in this feature.


While Adella Steiner Oyer, addressed by her students as Mrs. Oyer, taught two generations – in some cases three – of Bluffton’s fourth graders very few students and parents knew that she also raised five step-children, each one considering her as “mother.”


Here’s her story

She attended Hilty country school, also called Silver Maple School, still standing at the corner of Columbus Grove Road and State Route 696 in Richland Township.


Her first English words were learned and spoken in that one-room school house. She and nearly all other youngsters in what was known as the rural Swiss Settlement west of Bluffton grew up with a Swiss dialect as their first language.


An exceptionally gifted student, in 1916 the Bluffton News reported on her spelling abilities. Sixty-five pupils from Beaverdam, Bluffton and Richland Township competed in a spelling contest. Adella Steiner finished second with 95 out of 100 words spelled correctly. The winner spelled 96 correctly. 


The next month, in another spelling contest, Adella again tied for second. These top placements qualified her as one of Richland Township, Bluffton and Beaverdam students to compete in the Allen County contest. The News did not report the results of that contest.


At Hilty school, she graduated from the eighth grade in 1916, moving on to attend Bluffton High School, graduating there in 1920.

Adella in Hilty country school

Living four and one-half miles from town, she drove a horse “Dixie” and buggy to attend Bluffton High School.


The move to high school was dramatic in several ways. First, the daily horse and buggy ride in all types of weather, requiring boarding the horse in a rented barn before going to school. Second, at Hilty school most, if not all, of her classmates were related, growing up in very similar rural households.


Suddenly, she was part of a mixed group of village student not familiar with farm life, who walked to school, and who never had to learn English in school.


After high school graduation she attended Bowling Green State Teacher College, and completed courses required to earn a teaching certificate in the 1920s. From there she taught school for the next eight years, while living with her parents.


In the summer of 1929, Adella made the crucial decision to resign her teaching position and move to Chicago to stay with her cousin’s family, Phoebe, who died of an illness just one month earlier. Phoebe’s husband, Amos Oyer, had recently accepted the pastorate of a Mennonite Church being built there. Amos was suddenly a widower with five children, ages 3 to 14.


The next three years of Adella’s life would test anyone’s ability to cope with mountaintop and deep valley life challenges.

Adella with the five Oyer siblings

Phoebe was buried in Bluffton, where she grew up on a farm next to Adella’s parents. Her husband, Amos, was faced with a tough concerning his children’s future. One choice, which he didn’t want to do, was to place them in the Salem Orphanage in Flannagan, Illinois, where Phoebe had once worked.


Meanwhile, on a decision based largely upon faith following a long discussion with her parents, Adella chose to resign her Bluffton teaching position. She moved to Chicago to help with the needs of the Oyer children. Although not in the plan, this decision eventually led to Amos and Adella’s, marriage on June 3, 1930.


Husband murdered in gangland Chicago shooting

Eighteen months later, on Dec. 2, 1931, Amos was shot and killed in a gangland shooting, where he was an innocent victim. Evidence, however, pointed to a set-up murder of Amos because of his outspoken stance supporting prohibition.


The inquest’s results showed that the gunshot that killed Amos was fired by the pharmacist in the store where Amos stood during the “robbery.” There were no witnesses, no one apprehended and the verdict was accidental shooting.


Described in a book “Beyond Mere Survival – the story of Adella Steiner Oyer and her five orphans,” written by her step-daughter Ruth Schumacher, Adella said that the pain of the death of Amos was excruciating.  At the same time she wondered how she could keep the children together.


With few options, Adella chose to return to Ohio where family support and a possible teaching position existed. She was now a widow and step-mother of five children, with three in their teens. “But we would stay together,” she wrote.


After moving to Bluffton, at the end of the second school semester there was a resignation in the elementary. The teacher was getting married, however married women were not permitted to teach school. Adella was considered for the position, but one school board member objected because she had a family, even though she was a widow.


First female teacher with a family hired at Bluffton

In “Beyond Mere Survival,” Adella said that her father, Noah F. Steiner, visited with board members, reminding them that she had eight years’ experience. She was hired – the first  female teacher with a family allowed to teach in Bluffton. With a salary of $1,200 a year, “We would do just find. And we did,” she later stated.


Following her rehiring at Bluffton, in the early 1940s she returned to BG and attained additional required teaching certification, while still managing a household of five children.


Professional organizations

During her teaching career she was active in the Bluffton Parent-Teacher Association. The PTA served a significant community role during her teaching career, as its monthly meetings commonly filled the multi-purpose room – today’s elementary gym.


In 1950, she was second vice president, a position that eventually became first vice president followed by serving as president. Then, in 1954 she chaired the PTA welfare committee.

Other professional memberships included National Education Association, Ohio Education Association, Bluffton Education Association, Education and Professional Women's Club, Bluffton Professional and Business Women’s Association, Bluffton Evangelical Mennonite Church and its missionary society.

Adella Steiner Oyer, teacher photo 1963

In 1957, she was a member of the Bluffton United Fund steering committee. In 1959, she was a member of the membership and federation committee of the Bluffton Business and Professional Women’s Club.


Unable to complete her final year of teaching due to advancing cancer, Adella, resigned midway through the 1964-65 school year. She died Nov. 27, 1964. It was recalled that the line of persons attending her funeral visitation at Diller Funeral Home extended to Main Street, as it was filled with former students.


A credit to her nurturing is demonstrated through the success of her five “children,” each graduating from Bluffton High School and having either attended or graduated from Bluffton College.


Robert Oyer, M.D. –

1933 Bluffton High School graduate

Graduated from Bluffton College and received an M.D. from Hahnemann Medical School, Philadelphia. He eventually set up a general practice in Wapakoneta. Later he became the health commissioner for Auglaize, Allen and Shelby counties.


Ethelyn Oyer Rice – 1935 Bluffton High School graduate

Graduated from Bluffton College with a degree in music. She taught music for several years in area schools. Then, she and her husband, Ed Rice, for many years operated Rice’s Tot Shop on Bluffton’s Main Street. It eventually became Reistman’s and later Jan’s.


Ruth Oyer Schumacher, R.N. – 1936 Bluffton High School graduate

She attended Bluffton College and received a registered nursing, R.N., degree from Evangelical Hospital, Chicago. She was a surgical supervisor at Bluffton Hospital while continuing her education at BGSU. At age 68 she completed her bachelor’s from St. Joseph’s College, Standish, Maine. She volunteered for several community organizations and worked eight years as a technician at Wayne State University for the College of Lifelong Learning.


Herbert Oyer, Ph.D.  – 1939 Bluffton High School graduate 

Graduated from Bluffton College, obtained a master’s from BGSU, and a doctorate from Ohio State. He served as dean of the Michigan State University College of Communication Arts and Sciences and later dean of its graduate school. He also chaired the Department of Speech and Hearing Science at Ohio State, retiring as a professor emeritus.


Alice Oyer Niswander – 1943 Bluffton High School graduate

Graduated from Bluffton College with an education degree and taught fifth grade for many years in the Bluffton schools, similar to Adella. As a lifelong Bluffton resident she was active in several community organizations including the Bluffton Swiss Historical Society, Bluffton Presbyterian Church and the Evangelical Mennonite Cemetery Association.

Adella with her five grown step-children. Seated Alice Niswander. Standing from left, Ruth Schumacher, Herbert Oyer, Adella, Robert Oyer and Ethelyn Rice.

Bluffton elementary school staff in the first year of the new grade school, 1956-57.

Back row from left, Robert Stratton, sixth grade, Clarence Kooker, fifth grade, Betty Nisley, fifth grade, Jeanette Klay, second-third grade, Meredith Stepleton, first grade and principal, Mary Jerome, second grade, Minerva Hilty, third grade and Robert Ewing, fourth grade

Front row, from left: Walter Sommer, custodian, Martha Ropp, sixth grade, Kathryne Patterson, music, Adella Oyer, fourth grade, Ruby Murray, first grade, Margaret Groman, Kindergarten and Darvin Luginbuhl, art.

Adella Oyer's 1936-37 fourth grade class of 37 students.

Hilty county school, 1913-14 – Adella, fourth from left in the back row.

Front row from left, Angelena Althaus Alspaugh, Mary Sumney Neuenschwander, Helen Augsburger Steiner, Hiram Augsburger, Ida Lora Minor, Ada Lora Bowsher, Willis Bixel, Oscar Althaus, Walter Garmatter, Lela Althaus Ford, Wilma Neuenschwander Gratz, Victoria Lora Seltz and Harley Burkholder.

Second row from left, Elizabeth Garmatter Deeds, Verna Burkholder Diller, Alma Steiner Jorg, Isaac Neuenschwander, Wendell Diller, Henry Althaus, Eli Garmatter, Elmer Nusbaum and Gideon Garmatter.

Third row from left, Elvina Augsburger Esau, Eunice Neuenschwander King, Irene Althaus Hall, Adella Steiner Oyer, Ella Augsburger Steffen, Emma Steiner Bertsche, Melvina Hilty Whisler, Melvin Hilty, Martha Lora Maynard, Bertha Lora, Frances Diller Moeller, Wilbur Sumney, Gilbert Nusbaum, William Garmatter and Guy Staut.

Top row from left, Levi Althaus, Ed Hilty (teacher), William Althaus, Paul Diller.

Left, Adella's possible 1920 high school graduation photo

Right, Adella's 1963 school year school year teaching photo


Ivan "Ike" Geiger, class of 1927

R.L. Triplett, class of 1902

1 comentario

I value the lists of people in this interesting article. So many delicious, delightful facts that give a great idea of that exact period of Bluffton history. Thanks for all the research you did embellishing the original to provide fascinating details so we could imagine (as Paul Harvey was known to share) “the rest of the story!”

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