Family heirloom reveals BGSU education connection 120 years in the making

BOWLING GREEN, Ohio – As one of the largest producers of teacher education graduates in Ohio, Bowling Green State University has a long and storied tradition as a teacher training institution dating back to its founding in 1910.

For one Columbus area family, the connection to BGSU goes back even farther – 120 years – and involves an unassuming pocket watch and a timeless building located on campus.

When Jo Gilicinski began to tie loose ends after the passing of her father, Charles Wallace, in 2021, she found a window into her family’s history – and a bridge to the present.

“My dad was very big into history and was basically our county historian, so he always wanted us to know about the history of our family,” she said. “I always knew my great-grandmother was a teacher, and a long time ago he had shown me this pocket watch of hers.”

Indeed, the box contained a gold ladies' pocket watch with a note from Charles saying that the watch originally was a present given to Grace Greenwood Goodhue, Jo’s great-grandmother, when she was hired as a schoolteacher in 1902 in Norwalk, Ohio.

The school at which she taught was called Norwalk No. 6 – a building that was moved to the BGSU campus in the 1970s and is now known as the Little Red Schoolhouse.

“I pulled out a safe deposit box, and inside of it was a little jewelry box with a note,” Jo said. “When I saw that it said Norwalk, Ohio, I connected it: I knew that the Little Red Schoolhouse on the BGSU campus used to be a Norwalk building. I thought, ‘Oh, wouldn’t that be funny if they were connected?’”

Incoming students of the BGSU College of Education and Human Development ring a bell that originally sat in the building’s cupola, a fact the family knew because they had a BGSU student who was studying, fittingly, to become a teacher.

Caroline Gilicinski ’23, who recently graduated from BGSU with an intervention specialist degree, rang that very bell a century after her great-great-grandmother taught in that building.

Just as Grace gave the watch to Charles when he graduated with his education degree in 1958, Jo presented Caroline with the pocket watch after her BGSU graduation, continuing the family’s tradition in the field of education.

Caroline now works for the Franklin County Board of Developmental Disabilities and teaches preschool to special needs students. Through one of her cousins who has Williams syndrome Caroline fostered a love of helping special needs students, and while at BGSU she earned valuable field experience immediately as a freshman that confirmed she was on the right path.

“My cousin has Williams syndrome, which is similar to Down syndrome, and we were always really close as kids. She’s older than me, but mentally much younger than me, so I always knew what it meant to have special needs,” Caroline said. “Then at BGSU, I was in the Educators in Context and Community learning community, so I was able to go out into the field in the fall of freshman year, and I already loved it.”

As a parent, Jo said she was thrilled Caroline chose BGSU due to the University’s long history of supporting teacher education.

“BGSU supports its students so well, so I fell in love with it as a parent,” she said. “I loved this connection in history, and I’m just so very proud of her for becoming a teacher.”

Education is at the forefront of the University's own lineage, as BGSU was founded as a teacher-training institution.

The University has built on its foundational history decade upon decade, making the nationally-ranked teacher education program at BGSU a premier destination for future educators due to the legacy of excellence in teacher preparation and hands-on experience, educational partnerships and innovation.   

The heirloom graduation present, which is now housed in a shadow box along with the note and pictures of all three educators, including Caroline in her cap and gown, was an unforgettable connection, Caroline said.

“I was very emotional, to be honest, and I found it very special,” Caroline said. “It was an honor to be able to carry out the family tradition of being a teacher.”

Updated: 11/09/2023 02:47PM