Excellence in schools began with Zachary DeMar

By Regina Villiers. Originally published November 2, 1994 in The Suburban Life, added November 16, 2019.

     Madeira’s reputation for the high quality of its schools did not happen overnight, or even in recent years.

     That reputation began long ago, and a part of it was started by a teacher who became a legend.

     He was a colorful man with a colorful name, Zachary Taylor DeMar, so named because he was born in the year Zachary Taylor was elected president, 1848.

     He’s usually known as Z.T. DeMar.  “We always call him Z.T.,” one of his former students, Ruth Berger Butcher, told me, “but never to his face.”

     Mr. DeMar started teaching in Madeira in 1885, when he was 37 years old.  He taught here until 1921, retiring when he was 73.

     He was known as the Head Teacher of the school, which was the same thing as principal today.  Mr.DeMar was the boss, and if anyone ever forgot it, he was reminded again in short order.

     The school, at the time, stood at the southwest corner of Miami Avenue and Camargo Road.  It was a handsome two-story brick building, built in 1875.  There were two large rooms on the first floor for grades one through five, and one large room on the second floor for grades six through eight.

     “There were three grades in one room on the first floor and two in the other,” Ruth Butcher said.  She remembers that her teacher was Miss Emily Watkins and that a Miss Linder taught art.  She can’t remember Miss Linder’s first name.

     Though the whole school was run and overseen by Mr. DeMar, the second floor was his kingdom.  He taught grades six through eight there, and from accounts of some of his students still around, he did it well and with a firm hand.

     Gus Uebel remembers Mr. DeMar’s reaction to Daylight Savings Time when it first started.  “He would have nothing to do with it,” Gus said.  “When the clocks went ahead, he kept his watch at the same time.  When it came time for us to go home for the day, he said it wasn’t time for school to be over, and he would make us stay the extra hour.

     When I repeated this story to another old-timer, he said it couldn’t be true.  “Why Daylight Savings Time didn’t even start till World War II,” he said, “and Mr. DeMar had quit teaching by then.”

     So, I ran to my ever-handy encyclopedia.

     Daylight Savings Time began in World War I.  Congress passed a law in March 1918, providing that, throughout the country clocks should be advanced one hour on the last Sunday in March and returned to normal standard time on the last Sunday in October.

     The law was later repealed because of rural pressure, but urban areas voluntarily adopted daylight savings time, known as summer tie or fast time, during the spring and summer months.

     So Gus was correct in his remembrance and wins that little skirmish.

     Mr. DeMar lived at the corner of Graves Road and Miami Avenue, and he walked to school every day.  His house, the yellow house on the northeast corner at Graves and Miami, still stands today.

     While Mr. DeMar’s former students remember what they learned, they also remember the fun they had.

     The school had a large playground that sloped down to Camargo Road.  Ruth Butcher and Gus Uebel both remember the games and all the recess fun.

     But they remember most vividly the last day of school every year.  It was a play day.  “Mr. DeMar would come early,” they said, “and put up rope swings and get everything read to play all day.”  They would also have a huge picnic.  All the mothers would bring food.

     During summer vacations, lawn fetes were held on the school grounds.  There were cakes and homemade ice cream sold by the PTA.  “That’s how the school made extra money then,” Ruth said.

     Though Mr. DeMar quit teaching at age 73, he lived to be a vigorous old man.  In 1944, Oscar Meyer wrote in “Sawdust and Shavings,” the newsletter he mailed to WWII servicemen:  “Mr. DeMar was working in his garden this week.  He is now 95 years old.  He taught my dad and my brother, Walter.  He taught me and my wife, Charlotte.”

     There aren’t too many of Zachary Taylor DeMar’s students around to remember him now.  Gus Uebel is 88.  Ruth Butcher and Oscar Meyer are both in their 90’s.  But their memories of their old teacher have dimmed but little.  They remember the good times and the things they learned from the colorful teacher who became a legend.

     Zachary Taylor DeMar was one of the first builders of Madeira’s reputation for quality schools.  We owe him a lot.