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Casey Corliss Interview by John Yevuta

By Staff | Apr 8, 2020

Casey Corliss at the Great Wall in China.

Marikay “Casey” Corliss grew up in Johnstown, Pennsylvania and graduated from Fairmont State College. An opportunity to teach brought her to Wetzel County, where she has mentored hundreds of students including her own children- Cody, Chad and Molly. She currently serves as a countywide teacher for the gifted and talented. Previously, she served ten years on the New Martinsville City Council. To call her a force of nature would be accurate.

The Intereview: Tell us about your life after graduating from Fairmont State. I spent my first year after college teaching in my hometown of Johnstown. I cleared $80 a week. I felt my principal was unkind to the children so I quit after one year thinking teaching wasn’t for me.

You left Johnstown and moved to New York City. What were your most memorable experiences there? I learned a lot during my time there, some good and some not so good. After a year, the Big Apple lost its magic for me. My purse had been ripped off my shoulder twice and my neighbor across the street was murdered. One highlight of my time there, though, was when my roommate, who worked at Filmore East, brought the Grateful Dead back to our apartment one night. We partied with them well into the early morning. I left New York disillusioned and broke.

Of all the jobs you applied for during your early adulthood, which was the most unique? I heard that an old high school pal was going to California, so I hitched a ride with her in her Ford Fairlane 500. She dropped me off in Palo Alto where I met up with another friend who was a nurse at Stanford. I tried desperately to get a teaching job but only got one interview. My girlfriend suggested that I take the civil service test. I wasn’t qualified to take any current tests for available positions- save one. It was for a “Vector Control Technician”. So, penniless, I signed up for the non-verbal testing which I thought was strange. When I showed up for the testing, I noticed almost all the applicants were Spanish-speaking males. The test was ridiculously easy and I got a score that warranted an interview. At the interview, they told me I scored 100% on the test but they didn’t think I was physically big enough to do the job. I summoned the courage to ask what a “Vector Control Technician” did. The interviewer told me it was a rat catcher for the city of San Mateo. I weighed 105 pounds and he didn’t think I could lift the 45-50 pound manhole covers. Despite his doubts, he had to hire me. Then he gave me an out-I could take a test for switchboard operators and bide my time for three weeks when they would be testing for social workers. I passed the social worker test and that was my job for two years.

Millions of people now claim to have been at Woodstock. You were actually there. Any memory that stands out? Ah, yes, I was there but remember little. We parked 3-4 miles from Max Yasgur’s farm. We were ill equipped-no food, no water. Never saw the stage but heard the music. I’ve never been so dirty. Everyone shared what they had.

Who was the biggest influence in your life? My mother really shaped who I am today. She was brilliant but quit school at age 16 to marry my dad. Her home environment was horrible. Her dad was a raging drunk and her mother was not tethered to reality. My mom saw my dad as a lifeline to a better life. They had a solid marriage until my dad died. She encouraged my three sisters and me to learn a trade or get an education so “you don’t have to depend on a man to take care of you”. To say she was ahead of her time would be an understatement. Her compassion for others was incredible. Up until the time she sold her house and moved into a retirement home, she allowed a homeless woman to live in her basement.

What human qualities do you most admire? Unselfish kindness and generosity of spirit.

What human qualities do you most deplore? Arrogance and greed.

What is on your bucket list? I would love to visit the pyramids in Egypt. I would relocate part-time to The Netherlands. Most of all, I want to live long enough to see my five grandsons grow up.

Where would you like to visit that you’ve never been? Peru and most of Africa, specifically, Egypt.

What’s the best advice you ever received? My mom told me, “You can make a few mistakes; just don’t make too many”.

Any advice for a person thinking about going into the teaching profession? Be prepared for low wages and a few eager learners. Treat the kids with love & respect and you will be successful. Loving children is far more important than your intellect.

Who would you invite to your dream dinner party? Dr. Albert Schweitzer and Maya Angelou would be a good start.

What advice would you give your younger self? Love and forgive more- judge less. Spend more time with the creator and enjoy the miracle of nature. Be grateful and humble.

You were a runner back in the running “boom”. What was the most memorable race you ever ran? I so enjoyed my five am run with my Golden Retriever. The most memorable race I ever ran was my first one. It was a 10k race in Akron, Ohio, sponsored by Dannon Yogurt. I never felt so alive!!! Surrounded by like-minded runners I was connected to them in a mysterious miraculous way. I was “in love”. I ran the first 2 miles at a 7 minute per mile pace which was far beyond my skill level. I paid for it the final miles but crossing the finish line gave me a feeling of accomplishment words could not describe.

You lived within the city limits of New Martinsville for many years and now you live in the country. How would you describe Wetzel County to someone who has never been here? I am an adopted child of West Virginia. It is such a beautiful state filled with mostly lovely, kind, and generous people. Sadly, our roads and highways are littered with trash. I am clueless as to why people defile our wild beauty. Country living is the best, but be prepared for power outages, poor internet service, finicky water wells and rugged roads. However, the blessings far exceed the negatives.

During this time of social distancing, how do you stay busy? My helper, Ronnie Power, cut down twenty small trees. We are painting, clearing those trees and brush from the hillside, gardening, reading, and picking up trash on Chiselfinger Ridge Road.

Please share three of your favorite books.

The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

I Am Pilgrim by Terry Hayes

The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls