Bahai News -- Rochester Democrat & Chronicle - Everyday Angels: A teacher in and of life

Everyday Angels: A teacher in and of life

Volunteer exemplifies her faith through an array of interests, humanitarian causes

By Diana Louise Carter
Democrat and Chronicle

Lauretta Haynes, a retired Rochester elementary teacher, is a respected volunteer active in a variety of historical and humanitarian efforts, including the Ganondagan State Historic Site.

(December 28, 2002) — Friends of Lauretta Haynes say she is one of the gentlest and most loyal souls they know.

She simply ignores unkind words and continues on with her work at Ganondagan State Historic Site in Victor, where she has volunteered since before the Seneca village became a historic site.

“If ever anything needs doing and they ask for volunteers, she’s the first one,” said fellow volunteer Janet Oaks, who has become a good friend of Haynes’ even outside the children’s activities they often run with the Friends of Ganondagan.

Guilty as charged, says Haynes, who notes that her eagerness to raise her hand in grade school made her none too popular with classmates.

“I used to have to run home a lot,” she says with her wide-eyed deadpan look. But that look changes into a broad smile and crinkled eyes as she explains that getting into such trouble helped her become the fastest runner at her school in South Bend, Ind.

A little of that precocious schoolgirl still shines through in Haynes, who retired from the Rochester School District four years ago after 30 years as an elementary school teacher.

She’s not so speedy anymore -- a chronic illness saps her energy and makes her short of breath. But her remarkable strength of will and faith allows her to continue logging volunteer hours, take new classes in weaving and devote time to her religious community and her friends.

“Our faith teaches us that we should serve humanity in whatever capacity we can,” Haynes says, referring to the Baha’i faith that has shaped her career and volunteerism. She has been a lifelong member of the Baha’i community, which instructs its followers to work for world peace, racial equality and gender parity.

So it is her spiritual mission, as well as her love for history, that drives her to help others -- particularly others whose worth has been undervalued by the mainstream.

“I love history and not just history that is written in the history books,” Haynes says, noting how often different groups of people are simply left out of books. “It’s amazing that some people have been excluded from history because someone concluded that they didn’t have intelligence,” she says.

This interest led her to her first teaching job, in a reservation school for Northern Cheyenne children in Montana. Recruited in the 1960s by friends to teach in Rochester’s schools, Haynes agreed to exchange her remote, rural classroom for one in the heart of a city because she felt she might be of even more use here.

A smile spreads across her face when she talks about her teaching years, but she sounds wistful when she describes innovative teaching programs that fell victim to budget cuts years ago.

A few years after Haynes came to Rochester, she took a year’s sabbatical to gather information on the native people of South America as part of a church mission. She still speaks with wonder about about how native people in Bolivia and Peru welcomed her, but wonders aloud whether it was their openness or hers that shaped the experience.

“I’m sure she was a wonderful teacher, when I see how gentle she is,” says Jeanette Miller, executive director of the Friends group.

“I wish I would have had her for a teacher.” But she’s equally glad to have her for a volunteer.

Haynes, who lives in Farmington, Ontario County, is on the Friends’ board and serves on the group’s education committee. She was one of the earliest volunteers associated with Ganondagan even before it opened as a historic site in 1987. She was on the committee, headed by the late Sheldon Fisher, that won state backing to preserve the site and purchase it. She picked up trash, pulled weeds and, once there were trails, led visitors on interpretive tours.

Ganondagan was the site of a 17th-century Seneca village and home to the woman who played a key role in the formation of the Iroquois Confederacy.

The confederacy is believed by many scholars to be a model for the U.S. Constitution.

“I think it’s going to take a few years before people really comprehend the importance of that site,” Haynes says. It was a place where peace was made, and where it can be made again, she hopes.

Haynes’ soft-spoken speech is punctuated with folksy expressions such as “I’m just sitting here doing nothing, like a wart on a pickle,” or “They didn’t know me from a hole in a doughnut.”

Talk to her about race, though, and her gentleness becomes firm. Don’t use the expression African American to describe her, she says, because it’s a misnomer.

“Everybody came from Africa if you go back to the beginning,” Haynes says. “My faith taught us that we’re all from the human family.”

Her particular family also includes Choctaw and other Native American heritages, but that’s news to her friends.

“She’s here to help, and that’s what she does,” says Miller. “With others, that’s the first thing they announce.”

Haynes is not all service and seriousness, though, according to her friends. “She has a wonderful sense of humor,” says Miller, who likes to sit next to her at meetings in case the giggles break out.

Haynes is generous with her money as well as her time, Miller says. As a volunteer at Ganondagan’s gift shop, she’s always the first to purchase any new book that is stocked. Haynes confesses that she buys two copies -- one for herself and one for a friend to be decided upon later.

With some titles, she gives away several copies, trying to help people understand parts of history that were largely ignored by mainstream books.

“What Ganondagan is doing is educating people and trying to dispel stereotypes of people,” Haynes says.

And she has unwittingly described herself.

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Everyday Angels
    This is a six-part series focusing on good people in the Rochester area who strive all year to make life better for the community. The stories of these six people stand for the thousands of other volunteers who have lighted the way during a year that has brought more than its share of bad news.

Tuesday: A 911 telecommunicator who leads an effort to provide handcrafted items to the families of newborns.

Wednesday: A disabled Ethiopian immigrant who works tirelessly sorting food and clothing for the needy.

Thursday: A heart attack and stroke survivor who for 20 years has served at a local soup kitchen.

Friday: A legally blind woman who performs countless errands of mercy in Lyons.

Saturday: A former teacher who for 25 years has worked to preserve and pass on Native American heritage at Ganondagon State Historic Site.

Sunday: A Vietnam veteran who has gone back to Southeast Asia on humanitarian missions and volunteers at the veterans center.

©Copyright 2002, Rochester Democrat and Chronicle

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