August: Nancy Irle served as educator supreme

Published 12:02 am Saturday, February 4, 2017

I was shockingly informed on Monday (Jan. 30) that Mrs. Nancy Irle passed away in Friendswood, Texas.

Mrs. Irle was an educator in the St. John Parish School System for many years.  She was a teacher at John L. Ory Elementary School during the very turbulent times of integration.

To many of her former students, she will be remembered as a tough, stringent, but very dedicated teacher. Her appearance at times could be very intimidating, but we learned that the intimidating appearance only reinforced the seriousness with which she undertook her love for teaching.

As a student of hers during those difficult days of integration, I came to fear and then appreciate the person of Mrs. Nancy Irle. In the words of the elders, one day in class I was “smelling myself” and feeling a little rebellious. When asked to answer a question, I responded (very lowly) that I didn’t know the answer.

Mrs. Irle’s stern response was, “What did you say young man?”

To which I replied, “I don’t know the answer.”

She responded, “Stand up young man! You are here for one purpose and that is to get an education, and I’m going to give it to you whether you want it or not! Understand?”

She made me read the hardest books, solve the toughest math problems (on the blackboard in front of everyone) and challenged me to do my best. For this I am forever grateful.

Months later, I was summoned from the playground to her classroom. With wonderment, I’m thinking, “What have I done now?” As I entered her classroom, Mrs. Irle was at her desk with a tissue wiping tears from her eyes.

She said, “Donald you have been a student of mine for a while now, do you think that I’m prejudiced?” (She had been accused of a racist remark by one of her students.)

I responded to her, “No, I don’t think that you are prejudice because you have helped me so much as my teacher.” She said, “Thank you! I needed to hear that from you.”

That experience, to this day, has left a profound effect on my life in trying to understand, respond to and avoid prejudice and racism, as much as possible.

Many of Nancy Irle’s former students will remember her for playing the piano and her production of “Mulligan’s Magic.”

She loved playing the piano and producing this play at John L. Ory Elementary, and then I learned that she later taught at Woodland Elementary School (which was primarily black before and after integration).

My wife remembers this well as a student at Woodland Elementary. She indicates that for many of the students, “Mulligan’s Magic” was their first introduction to performing in musical productions.

Thanks to Mrs. Nancy Irle and so many others, I was able to complete my elementary education at John L. Ory Elementary; attend Fifth Ward Jr. High (former all-black High School); attend and graduate from Leon Godchaux High School; attend college; attain a Bachelor’s Degree in Business Administration; work in the Business World for over 30 years and now serve as a pastor of a local congregation.

The lessons that I learned during those challenging days of integration from people like Mrs. Nancy Irle and so many others, have formed me into the individual that I am today.

And I cherish the God-given ability and opportunity to work along with people of all races, colors and creeds to help minister to the common good, which I believe exists in all people.

About 13 years ago, through the blessing of technology, I was able to locate Mrs. Irle, her husband Don and their daughter Daniella. They were residing in Friendswood, Texas.

Daniella had recently been hired as swim coach at Tulane University and they were planning a trip to the New Orleans area. My wife, my son and I were privileged to treat Mrs. Nancy Irle and her daughter, Daniella, to an evening meal at Middendorf’s Restaurant in Manchac. We enjoyed a blessed time of fellowship and laughter.

There, we had the opportunity to personally thank her for her investment in us and the lasting impression she made in my life.

The Rev. Donald R. August Sr. is pastor of Rising Star Baptist Church. He can be reached at