Lynn Moncus was hard but believed in her students

By Anne E. Foland

Roseburg, Oregon

(Editor’s note: Lynn Moncus, 79, a beloved former teacher and Quay County historian, died June 23.)

I recently learned of the passing of Lynn Moncus and wished to express my condolences to the residents of Quay County.  I know she was beloved and she will be missed.

I met Miss Moncus (as she was called) in 1978 when I enrolled in her grammar course at New Mexico State University.  Like most of the students in the class, I assumed that I knew a fair amount about grammar and that this would be an easy course, but within ten minutes, all of us understood that our knowledge was actually superficial and if not completely inaccurate, at least incomplete.

She overwhelmed us with the depth and breadth of her knowledge.  Terms flew fast and furious.

At the end of the first session, Miss Moncus casually remarked that she would like to see the first 50 sentences diagrammed by the next class.  We all sat there stunned.  Those 50 sentences took me 4 hours, and that was in addition to preparing for the next class session.  But I never felt disrespected or put down by Miss Moncus even though much of what I thought I knew was wrong.  Instead I came to realize that she was respecting our abilities to learn and consume a great deal of material very quickly.

I still use what I learned in this class today with my own students when they hand me a particularly gnarly sentence that I have to decipher. But more than that, I learned a valuable lesson about teaching: Students will rise to the occasion if the teacher has high standards and a deep respect for their capabilities.

Often with Miss Moncus, I felt that she knew more about what I was capable of than I did, and my college students have reported the same experiences to me.

I’ll never forget the midterm exam from that class.  Miss Moncus told us we could use our notes, books or whatever we felt we needed.  I really studied for that test.  When I walked into the exam, I looked up and realized the exam was on the board.  “Diagram the British term ‘To Horse’”  What?  I wish I could say that the answer came quickly to me; it didn’t.  As I looked around the classroom, I saw other looks of confusion, but I began working on it and actually produced what I thought were three possible answers.  They were all wrong!  In fact, no one in the class got it right.  We all failed, and Miss Moncus threw out the test admitting that she didn’t like testing anyway.  (If you want to figure this out, try this hint: horse used to be not only a noun but a verb). I took several courses from her, but this grammar course had the greatest impact.

I later became friends with Lynn when I was hired to teach in Tucumcari and rented her family home.  During her summer breaks, she often took me with her to visit her “pioneer” friends living in Quay County.  I especially remember Clyde and Alice Lee Dunning.  They lived simply on their small ranch far out in the country, and from them and others of Lynn’s friends, I learned what it meant to love the land you lived on—to take care of it and carefully use what it provided.  I especially remember one afternoon sitting outside the Dunnings’ home.  A storm was brewing across the llano, and as we watched, a small tornado formed and began racing right toward us.

Being from Portland, Oregon, this disturbed me, but when I asked if we shouldn’t go into the cellar or at least inside, both Lynn and Mr. Dunning smiled at me and shook their heads. ”We’ll be okay.”  The tornado kept coming.  By this time, I was on the end of my seat, ready to run when Mr. Dunning said, “You see that ditch right there by the road?….Well, when the twister hits it, it’ll take a left turn and follow along the road.” I wanted to believe him; I also wanted to cover my head and start praying, but sure enough, the twister did exactly as he said it would.  I never before had imagined knowing the land so well.

Lynn also took me to her family’s canyon, Moncus Canyon.  There I saw where she and her cousin Tink had ridden calves bareback along the edge of the steep canyon (scared me just to imagine it!).  I saw where her family had built a home, half dug into the side of the canyon on a granite ledge and where her grandparents had built a home at the mouth of the canyon with a miles-wide vista of the Alamogordo Valley.  I was amazed at how far Lynn had come from her home in Ima and I began to understand where her values had been shaped.

The most important lesson I learned from Lynn was about values and how to relate to others.  It was not only okay to have a value system, but it was necessary to have a code of behavior when dealing with others.

I know this thought is not popular now; I suspect it hasn’t been popular for a long time because it is hard, difficult to live up to, but I also know how important it is.  What I learned was that people do matter, what they think matters, what they feel matters, and it’s my job to respect them and listen carefully not only to their words but also to their hearts.  I have tried to do this even in far-flung Oregon.

It was with sorrow that I read she was gone, but her lessons have affected my life deeply as I am sure they have affected many others.

We all will miss her.


Ann E. Foland is a former student of Lynn Moncus.

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