Ora McGuire was not someone who made a pale impression; she inspired seemingly everyone who came in contact with her.
By Linda Thomas
Hometown Weekly Correspondent
Ora Lora (Spadafora) McGuire could not be held down. Not by the Great Depression, not by institutional sexism, not by war.
And that’s why her legacy as Walpole’s “Peace Crane Lady” is likely to last long after her recent passing on June 13, 2019, nearly a week shy of her 95th birthday. It makes sense for a woman whose daughter recalled she always taught her children they could “fly, fly, fly.”
McGuire was not someone who made a pale impression.
“When I met Ora, she was not a healthy woman,” said friend Carol Fellini, who first met her about 15 years ago. “She had severe chronic lung problems and couldn’t walk more than ten feet without using her inhaler.”
But Ora started chair yoga at the senior center in Walpole, and within a year, she was in better shape. Within a year, that saved her life.
“My favorite yoga story is about the time during the big snowstorm five years ago,” Fellini said.
“She went out to empty her rubbish and fell into a large snow pile and couldn’t get up. She was right smack in the middle of a four-foot pile of snow and couldn’t move. She relaxed and thought about life, then remembered her yoga class, learning how to get back up when you have fallen. End result: After thinking of what that class taught her, she got up and out of the snow pile, a little cold and wet, but safe.
“That’s my Ora,” Fellini said. “She never gave up on herself — or anyone.”
McGuire was born on June 18, 1924 in Chicago, to parents from Italy.
She graduated at 16 from Lucy L. Flower Vocational High School for Girls in Chicago in 1940, then attended Northern Illinois University in DeKalb, Illinois, where she studied French and Spanish.
When she graduated from college with a degree in education, she was offered a job to teach English, French and Spanish in Earl Park, Indiana.
Her daughter, Cathleen, can remember her mother telling her the moment she took that first step off the bus in Earl Park — with a then-population of 600 — she shouted: “Wait a minute. Where’s the town? We’re in the middle of nowhere.”
Soon, she met her future husband, Thomas, whose family had lived in Indiana for more than 100 years.
The couple married and eventually raised five children: twin daughters Cathleen and Colleen, son Tom and daughters Gina and Tina.
Thomas, Sr. ran a family-owned grocery store and also worked for Dun & Bradstreet before the couple had children.
Ora started teaching in Earl Park and had her five children, all under the age of five.
The family then moved to Oxford, Indiana, where she taught French, Spanish and English literature at Oxford High School for many years.
Cathleen described her mother as a “dynamic and enthusiastic powerhouse of a woman” who made learning exciting.
“Her mantra was ‘read, read, read.’”
Ora earned a master’s degree in library science from Purdue University and moved from teaching to becoming library administrator in charge of the newly created Benton Central High School library, as well as four new elementary school libraries.
Ora soon showed she was no one’s pushover.
During a teachers’ strike, she unexpectedly took the side of the teachers’ union and pushed for what was right for them.
That cost Ora her job; she was ultimately demoted.
But she took all the energy she could muster, gathered her strength and moved on.
She co-founded the Opera de Lafayette, an opera company in Lafayette, Indiana, still in existence today, producing shows such as “The Merry Widow,” “Die Fledermaus,” and “Hansel & Gretel.”
She co-chaired and helped to establish a city arts festival. She introduced the concept of A Taste of Lafayette, which started on one block and today is a downtown-wide annual event.
In 1989, Ora retired and moved to Brooklyn, New York, to stay with her daughter, Cathleen. There, she volunteered at the Metropolitan Opera and UNICEF.
A year later, she moved to Massachusetts, first settling in Brookline and enjoying the cultural milieu that Boston offered.
In time, Ora moved to Walpole to be closer to her daughter, Tina Callanan. It was there she began making origami paper cranes, handing them to anyone and everyone — even strangers she’d meet on the street.
She once explained the crane is the symbol of longevity, good health and peace.
Ora’s quest for peace began when she was inspired by the story about the Japanese girl Sadako Sasaki.
Sadako was 2 when an American atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima on August 6, 1945, near her home. She survived and went on to become one of the most widely known hibakusha, a Japanese term meaning “bomb-affected person.”
Sadako is remembered through the story of the 1,000 origami cranes she folded before her death, and to this day is a symbol of the innocent victims of nuclear warfare.
“My mom really connected with that a lot … the idea of peace in the world,” Cathleen said.
“She learned how to make these paper peace cranes, which are not easy. She taught me and it took me over 35 sheets in about three days to figure it out. She organized classes and workshops throughout the Walpole community so others could learn peace through the art of origami.”
Ora also created homemade cards using recycled materials, sending them to friends and family far and wide.
Cathleen remembers her mother using a “special” pair of scissors. She and her siblings didn’t give much thought to those scissors when they were young. But later, as adults, they started calling them “her magic scissors.”
Daughter Tina says her mother was quite the inspirational person to not only friends and family, but many in the community, especially the youth.
“What she inspired most in me, growing up, was the strength and courage to get an education and expand my horizons,” Tina said
“We are originally from a small town in Indiana where many stayed in the town and never went to college. I did go to college and after graduation, I made the choice to move to Boston with my friend, Diane, and my Mom encouraged me to go.
“I thought it very brave of her to let me move so far away, and on my own.”
Ora was a long-time active member and volunteer worker at the Walpole Senior Center and Blackburn Recreation Center, creating programs and activities for seniors.
She also demonstrated great confidence by doing the New York Times crossword puzzle in pen.
Ora’s Indiana years were focused on following dreams and professional goals.
When she got to Massachusetts, it became more about peace, love, kindness, caring, sharing and being tuned in to the individual.
“Ora made you believe in yourself,” Fellini said. “She was a woman that gave hope and love to everyone.
“I often write little silly things about life. Once, I gave one of my stories to Ora to read. I am a very private person, and how she got me to open up to her, I will never know.
“Thanks to Ora I now write a column for Hometown Weekly whenever I think of something to talk about — and from the response I get from people, I guess they love it.”
Tina says she owes so much to her mother.
“She gave me ‘wings’ to fly.
“And I was very blessed later in life when my mom moved to Walpole to be with me and my family. She also inspired my children to be independent thinkers and to be brave in their lives as well.
“Her legacy lives on through my family every day.
“We miss ‘Ganny’ very much and will always remember how much she made us think about the bigger picture of life.”
Editor’s Note: Linda Thomas writes for Hometown Weekly Publications, Inc. For comments and suggestions, she can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.