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Ahead of Her Time: Remembering Wilma Jean Milhouse

Portrait of Wilma MilhouseOne of Rush-Henrietta’s trailblazing teachers, Wilma Jean Milhouse, died March 12, 2022. Born in Alabama, Milhouse, 78, was one of Rush-Henrietta’s first Black teachers. As the district celebrates its 75th anniversary, this provides a perfect opportunity to reflect on her long-lasting contributions.

In 1965, while Rush-Henrietta’s student population was rising at an incredible rate, Milhouse joined an ever-growing faculty as a social studies teacher. At the time, she was only about seven years older than the students in her classroom. 

Teaching at what is now called Rush-Henrietta Senior High School, Milhouse’s career spanned more than three decades; she retired in 1998. Former students recall her as a direct, principled person who was adept at teaching them how - but not what - to think. “Yes, indeed a fine teacher and wonderful person,” recalls Terry Collalto, a 1979 Rush-Henrietta graduate. “Loved when in class it would turn into a debate on whatever topic was being discussed. Everyone had a voice, and viewpoints were respected.”

Chris Brandt Lewis needed extra assistance after taking Milhouse’s 11th grade history class. To this day, she vividly recalls what it was like to encounter her teacher on the first day of the extra session. “I can still see her greeting me at the door for summer school,” the 1979 graduate says. “She was beaming with a big smile welcoming me and happy to see me.”

The description of Milhouse’s smile meshes with a recollection provided by Rick Page, retired R-H teacher and administrator: “Wilma was an elegant lady with an infectious smile and was well respected by her students.”

Milhouse left “an indelible mark” on many of them, explains Joan Weigand Camardo, a 1977 graduate. “One of my favorite teachers,” Camardo says. “She was sassy, at times brutally honest, and the epitome of what every woman was striving for in the 70s especially. She taught us to be strong, smart, independent thinkers.” 

Beverly Burrell-Moore, a former Rush-Henrietta teacher and administrator, joined the district in 1973. Milhouse was the first teacher she met. It soon became apparent that Milhouse was a “fierce advocate for parents and students,” and a special advocate for students of color and immigrants. Whether working with students or her peers, she did so with great passion.

“She was a force to deal with and was courageous in all of her efforts to work with administration, give voice to students, and most importantly mentor many teachers of color who stood on her strong shoulders,” Burrell-Moore says. “She personally connected many educators of various opinions, backgrounds, and experiences to have courageous conversations.I owe much to her personally and professionally. She will never be forgotten.”

Many people have shared fond memories of Milhouse since her passing, and it is easy to see why. “She taught me more than she ever knew,” says Larry Wentworth, a 1980 graduate. “She opened a teenager’s eyes about taking people at face value and embracing equality.”