Alice Ranck Hettle has maintained a level of reverence among her former students and peers that many teachers could only dream of, decades after she left the classroom.
She taught Latin at New Albany High School (NAHS) for more than 30 years before retiring in 1986. After Ranck Hettle died in November 2019, a group of alumni started an effort to honor her legacy.
This week, they dedicated the Alice Ranck Hettle Media Center at the high school.
“She made such a lasting impression on so many different people,” said former student Steve Prince, who now teaches Latin at NAHS. “At the ceremony, there were a lot of people who became teachers. There were doctors there, there were lawyers. There were all kinds of professionals. She just really influenced so many people in so many different ways.”
The renaming process started with a petition that garnered hundreds of signatures. A committee of NAHS and New Albany Floyd County Schools (NAFCS) officials then took the proposal to the school board, where it was unanimously approved.
Prince said Ranck Hettle was respected as an academic, but also because of how she treated students outside the classroom.
“She was very involved in our lives in many different respects, whether it was watching them participate in athletics or theater performances or taking them on college visitations,” Prince said. “She would do that to kind of help kids who might not otherwise get to go to college.”
Nearly 300 of her former students are members of a Facebook page dedicated to her, called Fans of Alice Ranck Hettle.
“At a time when it wasn’t a popular thing, she got to know each one of us,” Tim Harbison, another student who followed in Ranck Hettle’s footsteps by becoming a Latin teacher, said. “She reached out to us as individuals. That’s why we loved her: because she loved us first.”
Harbison said Ranck Hettle’s bond with students didn’t end when they graduated high school.
Back surgery forced Harbison to withdraw from Indiana University during his freshman year. He was bedridden for more than a month.
A week after the surgery, he got an unexpected visitor.
“My mom came to the door and said, ‘Miss Ranck’s here to see you,’ and she walked in,” Harbison said. “She handed me the Latin book and said, ‘Let’s get started, buddy.’ And she tutored me at my house before I went back to IU.”
About 80 people from four decades of graduating classes attended the ceremony to honor Ranck Hettle on Sunday. Some traveled from as far away as Massachusetts and Texas.
Susan Adams, who was Ranck Hettle’s student in the 1960s, helped secure a plaque for the dedication.
It has a picture of Ranck Hettle, alongside a quote in Latin from the Roman philosopher Seneca.
“It translates to, ‘You must keep learning as long as there is something you do not know,’” Adams said. “It’s very important that students from now on will see that.”
NAFCS Associate Superintendent Louie Jensen said it’s not uncommon for impactful sports coaches or performing arts directors to have facilities named after them. But it’s a rarity for teachers.
Jensen said Ranck Hettle earned that honor by inspiring countless people over the years.
“People always ask teachers, ‘What do you make?’ They’re asking that question from an economic standpoint,” he said. “You’ll find those true educators will say, ‘What do I make? I make a difference in a student’s life.’ And that’s what Alice Ranck did.”
John Boyle is a corps member with Report For America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms. John’s coverage of Southern Indiana is funded, in part, by the Caesars Foundation of Floyd County, Community Foundation of Southern Indiana and Samtec, Inc.