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Margaret Harder had three childhood dreams. She wanted to be tall, have beautiful handwriting and become a teacher. She achieved all three.

She grew to be 5-foot-7, the tallest of her five siblings. She wrote in a lovely rounded script, leaving ample samples of it behind in her diaries. And she was a teacher for more than 31 years, much loved by her students and a pioneer in integrating special-needs children into regular classrooms.

Margaret's parents, Heinrich and Helena Harder, were Mennonite immigrants from Russia. In spite of the family's poverty, she had a happy childhood with her siblings on the farm christened Poplar Grove. Somewhat unusual for the time, her father insisted that his daughters not only finish high school but also study for a profession.

Margaret's early school experiences influenced the kind of teacher she would be. She feared the teacher of their one-room school. Especially traumatic was the time her braid caught in his jacket button as he leaned forward to correct what she was doing at the blackboard. She also struggled to learn to read. Margaret determined that no child would ever be afraid of her, and she would give her students the individual help they needed.

Her teaching career unfolded in schools in southern Manitoba, then in Winnipeg. Along the way she earned several degrees, culminating with a masters of education from the University of Manitoba in 1973.

During a summer job at a hospital early in her teaching career, Margaret's heart was touched by the plight of children affected by the polio epidemic. She decided if she ever had the chance to teach children with physical disabilities, she would apply for it.

That opportunity came at Ellen Douglass School for physically disabled students in Winnipeg. Margaret quickly became a keen advocate of efforts to integrate these students into mainstream classrooms. As this integration happened, Margaret worked as a resource teacher in Grant Park and Lord Roberts schools.

Margaret was also a pioneer in her church. She was not pushy by nature, but when doors began to open for women in her conservative Mennonite Brethren denomination in the 1970s, she walked through them. In her congregation, she was one of the first women deacons, the first woman on church council and the first woman to preach.

Retirement gave Margaret more time to enjoy her hobbies of gardening, handwork and reading, as well as volunteering for the church.

She showed her deacon's care and teacher's sensitivity in her role of aunt. When one niece was teased for not being able to tell time even though she wore a watch, Margaret took the girl aside and patiently instructed her until she had mastered it.

Dora Dueck is Margaret's niece.