A physical education teacher in Frederick, Maryland, who colleagues and former students said taught her classes with excitement and passion, died over the Fourth of July weekend at the age of 94. But those who knew her say that she was no ordinary gym teacher.
Hilda Roelke Watkins divided her classes by gender during the 1950s and 60s and that was the way students as well as parents and school administrators liked it. Her repertoire was one that students embraced and she was known for her sincerity and for the genuine love and care that she had for her students and for their physical wellbeing.
Her legacy is one that is all but legendary, not just at Frederick High School where she taught, but throughout the Frederick community. When she retired from teaching in 1971, after about a decade-long tenure at Frederick, the school dedicated a portion of its initial yearbook to her.
Watkins graduated from the University of Maryland and subsequently began teaching both science as well as physical education at Damascus High School before taking on the PE teaching position at Frederick High. Her daughter, Carol Officer, said that Watkins must have had every girl in the town of Frederick as a student during the 1960s.
Former students and administrators remember Watkins’ passionate commitment to exercise for young people and say that she believed in it more as a form of recreation that could be enjoyed throughout a student’s life.
Officer remembers her mother teaching her to shoot free throws on the family’s basketball hoop in their driveway. Bonnie Strine, one of Watkins’ students at Frederick High School, says that students referred to her fondly as “Miss Hilda”. Strine said that Watkins always expressed her belief that children should have good role models and that the best role models were the teachers that they saw and were around every day during their formative years. Everyone who knew her agreed that she will be dearly missed.