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Naomi Heidelberg Reflects on Lillian Rolf: Gracious Hostess, Influential Educator

By Andrea (Matetic) Osmun g05 Published: Jan 27, 2017

Naomi Heidelberg's reflections of Lillian Rolf

Before the Fort Wayne Alumni Center existed, the old white house just east of Witmer Hall that houses it was the residence of Tim g06 and Beth (Manon g04) Groman while Beth worked in Student Development on campus. Before that, it was the Lillian Rolf House, a residence hall for women, for one or two years starting in 2004. And before that, it belonged to a woman named—you guessed it—Lillian Rolf.

Lillian Rolf, the lady and her house, stood silent guard, over the south campus for years, seeing many students walk past her on the sidewalk from Witmer to Founders, Bethany, Schultz, or even First Missionary Church.

Who was Lillian Rolf?

Naomi (Buckles) Heidelberg g69, a member of the Alumni Council, knew Lillian well. After Naomi graduated from Fort Wayne Bible College in 1969, she got her first job as a first-grade teacher at South Calhoun Elementary School (now Unity Lutheran). Lillian Rolf was a fifth-grade teacher there.

Naomi described Lillian as being “very gracious, quiet-mannered, and very settled in who she was and how she handled life.” She had beautiful, twinkling blue eyes and a lovely smile, and her hair was white. She also had a very dry sense of humor and was very witty.

Although she was mild-mannered, Lillian had complete control over her classroom. She never raised her voice, and when a student misbehaved, she confronted him or her in a firm but gentle manner.

“She had a very calm, peaceful way about her. I remember, as a young teacher, looking at her and seeing how she conducted herself,” Naomi said.

Naomi also remembers Lillian being very gracious and hospitable. Naomi and her colleagues met once a month at 7 p.m. to play bridge in each other’s homes. Lillian often brought her white meringue cookies to share with the ladies.

“I’ll never forget the first time I realized that Lil lived at the house. I was just blown away,” Naomi said. “I remembered, as a student, going by there many times—going by there on my way to the library and thinking about who lived there. When I found out she lived there, it was an amazing thing to me. As the future would have it, I would have many wonderful times in that house.”

Lillian was single, never married, and was very conscientious about how her property looked. One of her colleagues, Margaret, had a son named Mick who Lillian hired to take care of her lawn. Naomi said she treated Mick with a lot of kindness.

Although Naomi only taught at South Calhoun Elementary from 1970 to 1975 and Lillian retired from teaching in the mid-’70s, the time Naomi spent with Lillian left a lasting impression on her life and career.

“She was a very dear, sweet woman. She was a member of the Lutheran church, and the Lord had a big part of her life.”

From FWBC to 2017

Similar to Lillian, Naomi taught in the Fort Wayne Community Schools for 39 ½ years and then retired. She still enjoys meeting with her teaching colleagues every other Tuesday at Triangle Park to eat lunch together and play bridge. Their bridge group has now been together for 40 years, and she still considers the ladies a “big family” to her.

Naomi recently came to the Alumni Center, formerly Lillian Rolf’s house, to help decorate for Christmas, and she was overcome with many fond memories.

“I just remembered sitting in that little parlor there, and she was such a very gracious hostess—always a very kind and loving person,” she said.

Naomi is working with Sari (Pafford) Harris g89 on organizing an elementary education renewal reunion for Reunion Weekend (formerly Homecoming) this September 22 and 23 and is looking forward to seeing classmates and catching up on each other’s life stories.

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