Catching up with Elinor Cole

Elinor Cole has been an RLC teacher, director, and board member. Now, she's a principal donor.

by Glen Herbert

“The school has meant a lot both to me and my husband,” says Elinor Cole. “It’s important to me now because of all the great experiences I had when we were working there. As an educator I thought it was a unique and very special place.” 

Elinor taught at RLC for twenty years starting in 1983, the year that she and Bill both came on faculty. While the relationship with the school would define an era of their lives, their arrival was serendipitous. “My nephew Fraser Gaetz ‘87 started attending the school in 1980 or ‘81,” she says, “and so that’s how we heard about it.” She and Bill had been teaching in the public system in Toronto. Life threw some curveballs, one of which was a massive teacher’s strike they didn’t support. It was time to think about other things. “So, we asked if there were any jobs available, and Dave [Hodgetts] called us in and interviewed us.” And that was it. Bill was hired to teach English and Elinor to teach English and Grade 9 Geography.

“Bill and I just fell into it,” she says. “We couldn’t believe it.” She loved the closeness they had with the kids, a function of living on campus as well as the smaller class sizes. “One of the times we had what was called a ‘large’ class, and I think I had maybe 18 students in it. All my classes were smaller than that normally, so you were able to actually teach them.” In Toronto, 40 was a typical class size. “It was like trying to herd chickens. And you weren’t terribly close to the kids. You’d make an effort to get to know them, but with that many students you were really just trying to keep a lid on the class.” The difference that RLC represented couldn’t be plainer. “To us it was teaching heaven.”

In her time at RLC Elinor was a teacher and assistant head of school, academics. When she retired from the faculty, she took a seat on the Board of Directors. She’s seen generations of students come through the school, something that is underscored when she attends the Closing Ceremony each year. This year she was approached by Steven Wheldon, the son of Kathleen Wheldon, who was a colleague at RLC when she first started. “Steven came up to me and was like ‘Hi Mrs. Cole!’ He gave me a great big hug. And I was just starting to think, ‘Why the heck is Steven here?’ when a young woman with a mortarboard and a gown on came and said ‘Dad!’’ It was a remarkable moment. “And he was so proud.”

She loves to see the students and what RLC can mean in their lives. “Sometimes kids don’t have quite all the confidence that they need in a large school. But when they come to RLC they develop more self-confidence. And they know that they can ask for help, no matter what it is.” When she and Bill created the Best of Self award for the Grade 8 students, the motivation was to recognize students who weren’t otherwise being noted for their successes. “There are kids who excel really well athletically, and they get awards. And there are kids who do really well academically.” But for the others, “I wanted to let them know that they’ve really done well.”

There have been moments in the past when things perhaps weren’t assured, but that isn’t true now. She sees the future of the school as strong, though aware of the work that needs to be done. She finds the new development plans exciting, given how they extend the work of the school, rather than disrupting it.

“Rosseau Lake College has an effect on people,” she says, “it’s just a very special place.” Of course, she’s exactly right.