Debbie Hobbie moved here in seventh grade and hasn’t left since. Her faithfulness to the area could result from her self-reported tendency to grasp the big picture and ignore the details, which might be partially true. What seems more likely is that the experience of living through the memories of the Vandalia school district and then raising a family in the same district has branded Debbie with a purpose that can only emerge from local action and the security of a close-knit community.
Kind of Girl
She doesn’t seem the type to stay in one place. “That’s my personality,” Debbie explains. “I need something new, I need something different.” When she started teaching PE in the Hillsboro district in 1983, she already had the reputation as someone who thrived in multiple roles, desperate to change things up and keep it interesting. She was an athlete who didn’t plan her path as a teacher ahead of time, so she didn’t envision herself leading class discussions across a spectrum of subjects such as American History, Health, Science, and Geography.
As a library aide, she also insists on wearing many hats. One of the responsibilities she’s appointed to herself is instruction in basic life skills and social etiquette. Debbie enjoys teaching students the importance of a firm handshake, how long to hold out the hand, and how to hold eye contact until the handshake ends. They might not know it now, but all students who come into contact with Debbie Hobbie absorb valuable advice that can be applied to job interviews, presentations, and finding a life partner. “One day I was in the elevator with a couple of kids and we were getting towards the bottom,” she says. “I looked at the boys and I said, ‘Okay, I’m gonna teach you something. When the doors open, you step back and let the ladies go first.’” She smiles, “They looked at me like I was speaking French. I knew they had never been told that, so those are the things I think are my job. I’m the mom.”
Debbie thinks marketing herself as “the mom, guidance counselor, and willing to take the internal suspension kids” had a little something to do with her hiring. “Checking out library books really isn’t my purpose,” she states. “[The life skills] are the things that make sure, you know, I have a purpose.”
A large part of that purpose is the Nourishing Greatness program that Debbie organizes, which provides meals on the weekend for students affected by food insecurity. The program has fed up to 100 students a school year, grades 4-12, by offering 4 ½ meals per weekend for $20 monthly. “Everything with Nourishing Greatness has been God-centered,” she beams. “I talked about it for years and didn’t have the money to be able to do it. We couldn’t figure it out. Then everything fell into place. Every time I start worrying about money, a check comes in, so I don’t worry anymore.” The sack lunches from Nourishing Greatness provide well-needed sustenance and remind students in difficult situations that the community is a lifeline, a resource they can give back to just as much or even more when possible.
For Debbie, that’s what Vandalia is all about. “It doesn’t matter what anybody needs; there’s always a huge group of people who will just step in and take care of it,” she explains. Throughout the district, Debbie has developed a reputation as someone with the insider knowledge to “get things.” She locates necessities for students: clothing, food, school supplies, and more. If there’s a student need, faculty members know to look Debbie up to fulfill that need. The dedication to her hometown is maintained and steady due to the relationships she forms and continues to create. That’s what is most important to her about being a teacher. “It’s not the knowledge you impart. It’s the things you do behind the scenes and the relationships you establish with the kids,” she says.
“It’s the things that you do that you never get credit for.” To Debbie, that’s purpose. To Vandalia, that’s what Debbie is best known and prized for.