When Martha Wise-Spaulding was on the state Board of Education — a tenure that spanned 28 years — she was a passionate defender of evolution over creationism in the debate of what’s appropriate for public school science curriculum.
She was a Christian, by faith, said her son, Chris Wise. But when it came to public education, she thought students needed science.
“There were a lot of people who had something to say about that, but she kept creationism out of the classroom,” he said.
Wise-Spaulding, who was a longstanding champion of children and public education, died Tuesday at the Ames Family Hospice House in Westlake following a bout with cancer. She was 80.
Prior to her service with the state Board of Education, which garnered her the Pioneer in Education Award in 2007 for her work from 1973 to 1982 and 1989 to 2006, Wise-Spaulding served on the Elyria school board from 1984 through 1988.
“She left our board and went to the state Board of Education, but she never forgot about Elyria Schools,” said Elyria Municipal Court Judge Gary Bennett, who served with her on the Elyria school board. “She understood the challenges of urban schools and that was a plus for us when she was in Columbus.”
Bennett described Wise-Spaulding, a wife, mother and grandmother, as a hard worker, person of integrity and a pleasure to serve with.
“She was always prepared, always professional and always had the interest of the students foremost in her mind,” he said.
According to Wise-Spaulding’s obituary, something her son said she helped pen as her health began to fade, it was the Elyria League of Women Voters that piqued her interest in civic involvement. She built on that interest with her activities in both the Eastgate PTA and later the Elyria PTA Council.
Wise-Spaulding ran for the state Senate in 2006. The bid was unsuccessful, but she took the loss in stride.
“She never wanted to be a politician. She wanted to stay active in the public arena and make a difference,” Chris Wise said.
Jackie Schueneman, a longtime friend, said she met Wise-Spaulding when she was first running for the state school board. Schueneman said she was then a teacher and later a principal and was very interested in how a local woman wanted to change education in the state.
“There was a debate about what was to be taught (state versus federal),” she said. “Martha felt strongly that the state be the authority in developing the curriculum rather than the federal government. The bottom line was: If the state didn’t have its own curriculum, then the federal government would step in and dictate the curriculum for the state.”
In her position as president of the state school board, Schueneman said Wise-Spauling formed committees that looked at standardizing math, language arts, science and social studies curriculums.
“She believed in local community input,” Schueneman said.
Schueneman, who is now retired, said she would often travel with Wise-Spaulding to functions and gatherings. She got to see her friend through a different lens on those trips.
“My dear friend Martha was always a friend of the children,” she said. “Her enthusiasm inspired everyone around her with her love and caring for the education of the children in the state of Ohio.”
Funeral services for Wise will be 10:30 a.m. Saturday at Avon United Methodist Church.
Memorial contributions are suggested to the Avon United Methodist Church, any education endowment fund, Ohio PTA, Animal Protective League, local library or Hospice of the Western Reserve.