ST. CLAIRSVILLE - "A tireless worker" with "a heart of gold" and "unshakable faith" - this is how people see (Laura) Jo Prosser, according to family and friends. "Any Christian-like words can be used to describe Jo," explains friend Dr. Lorrinda Saxby. "She is generous, caring, honest, ethical, hard-working, committed to family, community and church and loving to all."
"Oh, and most of Jo's attire is in black and gold, either for Wake Forest (University) or the Steelers," adds Dr. Bradley Call, pastor at Thoburn United Methodist Church. Her preferred color palate is something with which Prosser herself proudly agrees. "We lived in Pittsburgh for so long that we were naturally fans," she says, laughing. "Then my son was at Wake Forest, and they're black and gold, too."
Indeed, this sweet, retired teacher whose cookies are coveted and whose love of children spans more than 50 years is an avid sports fan for St. C's Red Devils, Wheeling Central Catholic, Wake Forest and Pittsburgh. Known as "Grandma Jo" to her five grandchildren and their friends, Jo Prosser says she tries to keep up with the students she's taught in public schools and Sunday school by attending or being involved with sporting events, plays and other school activities.
“Imbued with grace” is one phrase Dr. Lorrinda Saxby used to describe her friend, Jo Prosser of St. Clairsville.
Born the daughter of two teachers, Prosser graduated from Weir High School in West Virginia. She attended Bethany College and then Duquesne in Pittsburgh. In 1949, at the end of World War II, she married George E. Prosser Jr., and they lived just outside of Pittsburgh. She raised a daughter, Cindy, who recently retired from the Bellaire School District, and a son, George ("Skip"), now deceased, who was a teacher and coach at Linsly Academy, Wheeling Central, Loyola University, Xavier University and Wake Forest fostering championship basketball teams and earning three major "Coach of the Year" titles.
She taught for 34 years in the Pittsburgh area, and when her husband of 40 years passed away in 1980, she moved to St. Clairsville to be closer to her daughter and grandchildren. Dr. Saxby, former district superintendent for St. Clairsville, met her when Prosser began substituting for the first grade. "I quickly became aware of how revered she was among children and teaching staff at the elementary," Saxby remembers. "Children responded to her instruction because she cared about them."
After 22 years at St. C., Prosser decided to stay involved with the schools and children in other ways. In addition to attending football and basketball games, Prosser helps organize school events and receptions, most notably the Baccalaureate sponsored by the Council of Churches and held at Thoburn Methodist Church. "I'm so thankful for the years I've spent with children, to have those relationships," says Prosser. She adds that "it's gratifying" to talk with former students when they see her out and about in town and to know they're doing well. Saxby notes that Prosser is the only teacher about whom she has ever heard comments from teenagers saying they wanted to be like her.
Prosser's granddaughter, Katyn Gross, remembers bringing friends to "hang out" and eat cookies with her grandmother after school and still hangs out with her whenever she can. "She was my first grade teacher which really helped to create a special bond between us," and Gross considers her grandmother one of her best friends. "She knows when to give advice and when to hold it in. She is not afraid to tell people what she thinks and to get her point across, but her intentions are purely good in doing it." In fact, Gross says her grandmother followed a referee into a locker room at halftime during one basketball game because he'd made a bad call.
Prosser admits to speaking up for whatever she feels strongly about, but has a strong commitment to being a good Christian. "My priorities are my family and my church," she says. "We're lucky to live in a country where we can worship freely and make other's lives better."
If there is one interest that rivals her love of sports, it is likely to be Prosser's love of reading. She spends time at the Thoburn church library and prefers Christian novels and history, but also reads John Grisham and Nicholas Sparks on occasion. Another of her hobbies is creating greeting cards customized for friends.
Gross adds that some of her favorite thoughts about Prosser are just of her grandmother being herself: "seeing her joy when my Uncle coached his games; seeing her want to turn the ordinary into extraordinary with a little love and some help; seeing her at church taking notes when the preacher talks; listening to her talk basketball with someone who assumes she wouldn't know a thing and then seeing the shocked look on his face when she does."
Prosser has been recovering from a health issue, but is on the mend and becoming involved with activities again. She's thankful and appreciative of the help neighbors and friends have given her. "People have been very good to me. Being a good neighbor means being there when you're needed. To care about people, that's the important thing I tried to teach my children, and now I'm seeing it in my grandchildren."
"While we do not always agree on every issue, Jo is a faithful supporter and encourager," says Pastor Call. "And the world could always use more of those."