|Birth: ||Dec. 21, 1913, USA|
|Death: ||May 1, 1996|
When she was my teacher, she was Frances B. Appleton. We, her students, called her "Frannie B." with great affection, though not to her face. Frances McConnell Bixler Appleton was our advisor for the school newspaper, and the teacher for our journalism class as well.
She was a sweet, tiny lady, almost birdlike-thin, well-dressed, and very sharp. Her smile lit up the busy staff office, and she had the gift of knowing when to let go and when, rarely, bearing down was necessary. She also had the talent of spotting what different students excelled at and encouraging them in their unique directions.
When I write today, I still apply principles Mrs. Appleton drilled into us: Avoid overuse of passive or "to be" verbs. Alter your approach to sentence construction so the differing structure keeps the words fresh. Do not end sentences with prepositions. Find a creative way to combine shorter or choppier sentences. "And" and "but" are not words with which to begin a sentence.
Beyond these mechanics, a lot of what I applied in later life in management was learned from her. The best lessons? Give people the dignity to work unimpeded. Most people want to excel, so guide with a light hand, correcting with a feather, rewarding what's done well more heartily. With her, every bit of teaching was affection-based, so you listened, knowing it was all to help.
I began with Mrs. Appleton as a bit of a creative flake, and from her learned self-discipline and deadline respect. Her trust and desire to encourage me brought me to the editorship of our school's literary arts magazine. Her guidance played no small part in my garnering several awards from the Pennsylvania School Press Association. Knowing of my interest in and understanding of film, she had me do some movie reviews. She knew I had bloodhound tendencies, so when I came to her with an idea for interviewing Moonie cult members, she advised me in my investigative work, resulting in an article that led to a top award.
Ever practical, she gave each of us spiral-bound reporter's notebooks when we graduated, inscribing each one personally with thoughts about the recipient. In mine, she called me "the ocean at daybreak" - a lovely image, the meaning of which I'm still working to uncover.
From the Allentown Morning Call, May 1996 - Fifty years ago, an Allentown High School teacher conceived of an idea to memorialize students lost to World War II by starting a student paper that would become known as The Canary.
It was 1946, the second of 33 years Frances McConnell Bixler Appleton would dedicate to teaching in Allentown. Today, this column will memorialize her through the comments of but a few of the hundreds of former students who loved and admired her. Mrs. Appleton died May 1 at 82.
I didn't know the lady, but as I write this I can see at least five of her former students in this newsroom. Countless others are out there, spread throughout the Lehigh Valley and the world, each carrying with them a memory of the woman who became synonymous with journalism at Allen High.
Morning Call TV Editor Sylvia Lawler said, "Miss Mac was an extraordinary person. She motivated you, but you weren't aware of her doing it. She was a booster of her students, but not in a rah-rah way. She never raised her voice, but was very even-tempered."
In 1946, Clifford "Chips" Bartholomew (who will be 92 on June 12) was her principal and the man who endorsed her idea for reviving the student newspaper. An earlier paper had been printed for a few years in the '20s.
"She was an excellent teacher," Bartholomew said, "and she did a magnificent job with The Canary. She also took care of dramatics as well," he recalled.
I was told that Bartholomew had hired her, but he said, "I thought she was there when I got there. I certainly would be glad to take the credit for it.
"She was a lovely person who got along well with the kids. I never had to worry when she took them to New York."
With Miss McConnell at the helm, New York and the student journalism mecca of Columbia University became an annual trek where Canary journalists and their adviser would consistently win honors. Side trips to museums and plays were part of the reward the aspiring journalists enjoyed.
In 1963 she earned the Columbia Scholastic Press Association's most prestigious honor -- the Golden Key Award.
But her life was not a quest for awards or glory. From all accounts, this was a person who epitomized the word -- "teacher."
Lehigh Commissioner John McHugh had the distinction of knowing her as a student and then decades later as her boss.
As a student, Miss McConnell enlisted him to be The Canary's business manager.
"She was a dream ... " he said, "a young dynamo stationed on the fourth floor of the annex building. Everyone who came into contact with her, particularly those who had her for history or newspapers said with pride, `Oh, we have Miss McConnell.'
"She got to know everyone individually and she treated us as though each one of us was the most important person in the world. She was very demanding, but she did it always with a little chuckle. She was an outstanding grammarian and she had an eye for news."
In 1971 he became the principal at Allen and had the opportunity to view his former teacher from the other side.
"When I observed her, I'd enjoy seeing the dynamics in the classroom. She was a rover. She was all over the place and made gestures while she talked and would have appropriate maps and charts and little stories to accompany the history she was teaching.
"`I bet you never knew this,' she would say and then she'd tell the story. The kids would sit there and eat it up. She had a great influence on my life," he concluded with more than a little emotion.
By this time she was no longer Miss Mac, as she was known to her earlier students, but Mrs. B., short for Mrs. Bixler. In 1956 she married Ivan Bixler, head of the graphic art department at Allen. Together, they spent years writing and printing The Canary. Ivan Bixler died in 1970 at the age of 62.
John Koch, a former reporter at The Call, remembered her patience with students in general and him in particular. "I wanted to be on the newspaper, but I had a lot to learn."
His most indelible memory of her came on the day John F. Kennedy was shot. "Ivan came in wearing one of his white printing smocks and whispered in her ear. I'll never forget the look on her face."
She retired in 1978 after 33 years at Allen. In the May 1978 issue of The Canary, student Charles Dervarics wrote: "In her quiet yet assertive and affectionate way, (she) has provided the leadership for countless award-winning newspapers and literary-art magazines.
"Yet more importantly, she has touched the lives of all her students, leaving them with a positive influence which lasts throughout their lives."
One such student is Brenda Bortz, who graduated in 1958 and was a Canary editor-in-chief. At a memorial service this week in Asbury Methodist Church, she told me of the remainder of her favorite teacher's life.
"She loved us all," Bortz said. "She just shone that love on everybody. She kept many kids on track with that paper and she followed and corresponded with the kids through the years.
Some years after the death of her first husband she became the wife of Lewis Appleton, a Harvard-trained chemist originally from Massachusetts.
They spent happy years together in a retired life of intellectual pursuit. They loved opera, Bortz said. "I Pagliacci" was her favorite. And she always kept roses and loved to tend them at the Pennsburg farm of her brother Fred McConnell, a retired professor of philosophy at Moravian College.
Lewis was older and died after a series of illnesses. Mrs. Appleton, herself, suffered from osteoporosis. When Bortz found out about her former teacher's illness, she determined to return the love she had been shown.
For the last years of Mrs. Appleton's life, Bortz visited her weekly and with the help of her loving family, did what she could to make her declining years more comfortable.
"She was somebody I wanted back in my life. I felt in some way I represented her students who loved her."
Frances Bixler Appleton, 82, of Allentown died Wednesday in Lehigh Valley Hospital, Salisbury Township. She was the wife of the late Lewis Appleton and Ivan Bixler.
She taught history, German and English at Allen High School until retiring in 1978. Prior to that she was a high school teacher in Wauseon, Ohio, 1942-45, and Bridgeport, Ohio, 1939-42. From 1936-39, she taught grade school in Bridgeport.
She was a 1935 graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University, Delaware, Ohio, and received her master's from Columbia University, New York City, in 1942.
Born in Lynchburg, Va., she was a daughter of the late Rev. Frederick W. and Laura F. (Sargent) McConnell.
She was a member and Sunday school teacher of Asbury United Methodist Church, Allentown.
An adviser for The Canary, the Allen High School newspaper, she won the Gold Key Award for newswriting from the Columbia Scholastic Press Association in 1964. She also assisted the superintendent on the school's newsletter, The Dateline.
She was a volunteer for Meals on Wheels, Lifeline, and Teaching Instrumental for Learning and Retirement, all of Allentown.
Survivors: Brother, Dr. Frederick of Woxall, Montgomery County; sister, Harriet Rike of Freemansburg; stepdaughters, Mary Susan, wife of John H. Hughes in England, and Marilyn Bixler, wife of Ferdinand Kuczala of Reading; stepsons, Donald Appleton and Richard Appleton, both of Bethlehem, and nine step-grandchildren.
Memorial services: To be announced, J.S. Burkholder Funeral Home, Allentown.
Created by: sr/ks
Record added: Feb 24, 2009
Find A Grave Memorial# 34162323
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