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There are two types of people who choose the teaching profession. The first is the type who knows from a very early age that they were born to teach, and have never wanted to do anything else. The other is the type that finds themself almost surprised to have an interest in teaching, never having felt the call before that decisive moment. The members of this second group are often, ironically, the children of educators. Having grown up seeing how hard their teacher parents work, and how little they are sometimes appreciated, these teachers’ kids can develop an aversion to the profession that is hard to shake.

Sharon LaDage

Sharon LaDage was one teacher’s kid who fell into that second group. However, once she realized that teaching was her true calling, Sharon gave it her whole self without reservation. During her long and distinguished career, she has touched the lives of many young people, and perhaps been the spark that some needed to realize that they, too, were born to be teachers.

Sharon was born in San Mateo, California to a mother who taught English and a father who was an air traffic controller. Not long after, her parents decided to move back to Illinois to be closer to family, and so, Sharon spent her formative years in Vandalia.


After the move, her mother settled into a position as an English teacher at the University of Illinois. A speed reader, as well as a stickler for detail, Sharon’s mom would not only read her students’ term papers, but would also insist on reading all of the source material cited in each paper. Sharon relates that she would observe the extreme amount of work and attention her mother poured into the grading of those papers, and confesses that she could not comprehend just why her mom did it. She remembers telling her mother, “Mom, I would never do what you’re doing!”


Fast-forward a few years, and Sharon was taking a speech course that would prove to be the catalyst, the spark that lit the teaching fire in Sharon. “I loved the thinking and the literature part of English,” she remembers, and the die had been cast. “I wanted to teach literature,” she says.


After her graduation from Vandalia Community Unit High School in 1964, she began to study Education at Illinois State University (she minored in Speech). While at ISU, Sharon met fellow education major William LaDage, and they later married.


Fresh out of school, with newly-minted teaching degrees, the LaDages set out to ignite a passion for learning in the youth of… well, they actually didn’t know. “We couldn’t find too many places that needed both of us,” Sharon recalls. On the recommendation of her mother, Sharon and William talked to long-time Vandalia Superintendent G.V. Blythe. Mr Blythe apparently liked what he saw, because he hired both of the LaDages on the spot.


Sharon began teaching junior high English, while William taught social studies to sixth-graders. “We just loved it,” she recalls. “It was the best profession in the world.” For Sharon, though, that first year was one of learning as well as teaching. “The first year, I learned to not raise my voice – and to make it fun,” she says. “I never was one of those people who said, ‘Ugh, I have to go to work today’.”


“I never knew what was going to walk through the door,” she says. A student could be on top of the world, or down in the dumps, but Sharon adopted a very egalitarian philosophy in the classroom that meant each student was treated the same as any other, and given the same opportunities. She sums it up neatly by saying, “A kid is a kid, is a kid. That’s the way I taught.” She explained, “I didn’t care what their parents did, I didn’t care what class their family was – that wasn’t my thing. That kid, to get them from Point A to Point B, that was my goal.” She recalls that when she began teaching, her mother told her, “Sharon, there is good in everybody,” and through the years Sharon has gone back to that touchstone often. “It guided me all the way through [my career]. I would seek out that good. Lots of times it was hard, but I found it. And she was right.”


For more than three decades, Sharon sought out the good in everyone she encountered in her classrooms and provided guidance and support to countless Vandalia students. Many have gone on to some of the most venerated institutions of higher learning in the nation, established careers and their own success stories across the country and around the world, while many put down roots right here in Fayette County, helping to keep our community strong. One common thread that binds them all is that they passed through Sharon’s classroom on the way to making their respective marks on the world. Despite the heights that her former students may have achieved, Sharon’s goal was always a simple one. “If I can get a child to think, that’s the goal for me,” she shared. Teaching students how to think critically and analytically was the strong foundation they all needed to build upon later in life, and Sharon gave them the tools they needed to build that foundation.


Retired since 2001, Sharon nevertheless retains her boundless enthusiasm for the profession that she once swore she would never practice. She cherishes the opportunities she had to make even a small difference in the lives of so many of Vandalia’s young people. “It was so much fun,” she gushes. “It was just the best.” To have a rewarding career is one thing, but to have fun while making the kind of impact Sharon did? Well that’s just about as good as it gets, and we’re sure many Vandals would agree that we’re all the better for it.

I learned to not raise my voice – and to make it fun. I never was one of those people who said, ‘Ugh, I have to go to work today’.
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