Doing whatever she wants to do

March 28, 2001 12:00 am
Heather Rudolph teaches creative writing through Crossroads Arts Center and substitute teaches for the Baker School District.  (Baker City Herald photograph by S. John Collins).
Heather Rudolph teaches creative writing through Crossroads Arts Center and substitute teaches for the Baker School District. (Baker City Herald photograph by S. John Collins).

By CHRISTINA WOOD

Of the Baker City Herald

Heather Rudolph is an active and remarkable young woman. Self-assured and articulate, she is a substitute teacher with the 5J School District, able to teach all ages of students from kindergarten through high school on a wide variety of subjects including math, English and Spanish.

She likes to ride horses, lives in her own home, and has three dogs and two cats to take care of each day. She is currently teaching classes in both adult and student creative writing. And she dreams of touring Australia and New Zealand some day.

All of this she does in spite of having suffered from juvenile rheumatoid arthritis (JRA) since she was 3-years-old.

The 28-year old daughter of Tom and Karen Rudolph, Heather grew up on the family ranch a few miles east of town on Highway 86. She was active with projects in 4-H (horses and rabbits) and FFA (pigs).

Heather said her family, including older sister, Katrina; younger sister, Sara; and her much younger cousin, Justin (just like a little brother), have never considered her disabled in any way.

It was always Get out there and clean those rabbit cages with your sister, Heather said. No excuses were accepted, but allowances were made for time.

It slows me down and I have to find different ways to do things, she said. She claims shes not very good with domestic stuff, however.

Of course, Heather has been treated for JRA for years, but until just a few years ago, there were few effective ways to treat the swollen joints, stiffness and pain that go with the disorder.

Heather has had one knee replaced, both hips replaced and her wrists replaced. Shes the Bionic Woman, said her mother, Karen.

And new medications have also helped her deal with the condition. She also has the use of a small, electric scooter, a Little Rascal, on days when it is hard for her to move around.

She also gets help from Zippy, her 12-year-old boarder collie. He willingly picks up things when she drops them and hes really protective of me.

Her father is currently tearing up the floor in her kitchen and replacing the linoleum. But that is a job few able-bodied people would want to tackle.

The scooter comes in handy when she teaches at elementary schools in Baker City.

I think its a good thing when I teach little kids, Heather said of her condition. She takes the time to explain JRA to them and how it affects her life. But when question time comes, the little boys always ask, How fast is your scooter?

She said the students see Im not just sitting around, waiting for someone to take care of me.

Always say Ill try

Heather said I cant isnt in her vocabulary. Its Ill try instead.

Dont come to me and say I cant without even trying. No one should give up and become disabled without trying to make it on their own.

Obviously, JRA hasnt stopped this young teacher from graduating from Baker High School or from Eastern Oregon University in La Grande in 1996. She even traveled to Missoula, Mont., for a semester as an exchange student.

She has a bachelors degree in biology with minors in chemistry and secondary education. She is also very conversant in Spanish and can play Scrabble in Spanish with her students.

She completed her education in five years instead of four, and had the use of a lot of scholarships and grants.

Its (JRA) slowed me down long enough, Heather said when speaking of her whirlwind career.

Heather said she enjoyed teaching fifth-graders the most. Theyre a lot of fun. High schoolers are fun too. They are really good kids here, she said, and very understanding.

Popular writing class

While her creative writing class for students has only attracted two this year, her adult class has had between seven and 10 participants every week. The class, which she took over from Eloise Dielman through Crossroads Arts Center, is on Tuesday afternoons at the Baker County Library.

We talk about what weve been writing about a lot, she said.

One of her students is Pearl Jones, the local historian who writes for the Baker City Herald.

I keep teasing her (Jones) and the other senior ladies in my writing class that they are busier now than they ever were, Heather said.

Jones herself uses adjectives like remarkable and inspiring when she speaks about the young teacher.

Heather laughed at this. The last time I gave the class an assignment to write extemporaneously, Pearl stomped her foot and told me I dont write like that and walked out of the class.

Heather said she believed the 80-year-old-plus writer has earned the right to do whatever she wants.

And the very capable Heather Rudolph has earned that right, as well.