2006.10.10: October 10, 2006: Headlines: COS - Malaysia: Obituaries: Dallas Morning News: Obituary for Malaysia RPCV Hazel Frances Balch Steel

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Malaysia: Peace Corps Malaysia : The Peace Corps in Malaysia: 2006.10.10: October 10, 2006: Headlines: COS - Malaysia: Obituaries: Dallas Morning News: Obituary for Malaysia RPCV Hazel Frances Balch Steel

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Obituary for Malaysia RPCV Hazel Frances Balch Steel

Obituary for Malaysia RPCV Hazel Frances Balch Steel

Mrs. Steel served in the Peace Corps in the mid-1960s. She anticipated being sent to South or Central America because of her Spanish language skills but was assigned to Malaysia to build a library for a new university using her skills as a librarian. "She just loved it," her son said. "She extended a year because she was having such a good time."

Obituary for Malaysia RPCV Hazel Frances Balch Steel

Hazel Frances Balch Steel: Helped many overcome learning problems

05:15 AM CDT on Tuesday, October 10, 2006

By JOE SIMNACHER / The Dallas Morning News

Hazel Frances Balch Steel was a Dallas teacher and librarian from 1950 to 1984, with the exception of the seven years she spent in the Peace Corps organizing a university library in Malaysia.

But she was most satisfied with her work late in her career helping students overcome learning difficulties, her family said.

She accomplished it all after becoming a widow when her husband was killed in the D-Day invasion at Normandy.

Mrs. Steel, 91, died Tuesday of natural causes at Buckner Retirement Village.

A memorial service will be at 10 a.m. Saturday at White Rock United Methodist Church.

Mrs. Steel was once offered a position in Dallas school administration but declined the promotion to stay in the classroom with her students, said her son, retired Marine Col. John David Steel of Carrollton.

"'I belong in the classroom. ... They need me, they don't need me in administration,' " her son said she said at the time.

Mrs. Steel was born in Hugo, Okla., where she was valedictorian of her high school class of 1932.

She attended Southeastern Oklahoma State College, now Southeastern Oklahoma State University, in Durant, Okla., where he met and married John R. Steel. They continued their educations at Southern Methodist University, where she earned a bachelor's degree in education and he graduated from the Perkins School of Theology.

Mr. Steel was an assistant pastor in Richardson before splitting his time between churches in Boswell and Soper, Okla. He had just been assigned to a church in Oklahoma City when he joined the Army to serve in World War II. Capt. Steel, a chaplain, was killed on D-Day, June 6, 1944.

Mrs. Steel began teaching in Pauls Valley, Okla., and resumed her education. She earned a master's degree in education at George Peabody College for Teachers in Nashville and a master's degree in library science at Texas Woman's University in Denton.

"She would teach and then go back to school and teach and go back to school," her son said. "I don't ever remember her not being in school or teaching."

In 1950, she began teaching in Dallas at Leila P. Cowart Elementary. She was the librarian at W.E. Greiner Junior High and then a fifth-grade teacher at Casa View Elementary.

Mrs. Steel found it especially rewarding to teach at Nathaniel Hawthorne Elementary in Pleasant Grove, where she worked with students who "hadn't learned how to learn," her son said.

"My mother's job was to make that breakthrough so they could begin to learn," Col. Steel said. "Each student was different. I remember very vividly her describing this.

"Each one had a different issue," he said. "It took all of her experience and every moment of education she'd ever invested in. ... She had to be alert to each student's needs."

Mrs. Steel loved the moment of the breakthrough, her son said.

"She could see kind of a light come on in their eyes and a little bit of excitement ... once they were able to start learning ... then they could move on to another group."

Mrs. Steel served in the Peace Corps in the mid-1960s.

She anticipated being sent to South or Central America because of her Spanish language skills but was assigned to Malaysia to build a library for a new university using her skills as a librarian.

"She just loved it," her son said. "She extended a year because she was having such a good time."

Mrs. Steel returned to Dallas and taught at Casa View Elementary and third grade at James W. Fannin Elementary before going to Hawthorne Elementary.

Mrs. Steel taught many students from harsh environments.

"She often had bruises on her legs and hips from breaking up fights," her son said.

Mrs. Steel also "scrounged school supplies" for her students and later helped many of them financially to continue their college educations, Col. Steel said.

In retirement, Mrs. Steel volunteered at Doctors Hospital and Southeastern Medical Center. She also translated textbooks from English to Spanish for Braille editions, her son said.

She had also been a church organist for Brandon Avenue United Methodist Church, Clarendon Drive Baptist Church and Casa View United Methodist Church.

In addition to her son, Mrs. Steel is survived by a daughter, Lillian Stephens of Dallas; two sisters, Helen Routte of Dallas and Fay White of Naples, Fla.; three grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.

Memorials may be made to an educational organization of choice.

E-mail jsimnacher@dallasnews.com

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