In between a game of bourée and poker on a rainy Wednesday afternoon, Gail Perioux sung out to her friends around the table: "Who let the dogs out?"

"Woof, woof, woof, woof, woof," the four other women chanted back in unison before dissolving into a fit of giggles.

They're all 70 or 71 years old, but they might as well be 17 again. And on this particular Wednesday, they were thinking back to that time in their lives when former Gov. Kathleen Blanco was their teacher at Breaux Bridge High School.

"She had a very calm demeanor, even then. What you saw was what you got," said Priscilla Breaux. "When she became governor, she had the same attitude and smile and demeanor. She was just like what I remember from the classroom."

Blanco, who died Sunday at 76 from complications of cancer, prioritized education while serving as governor from 2004 to 2008.

But long before education became her political platform, Blanco taught business classes at Breaux Bridge High. She was at the St. Martin Parish public school for only about a year before leaving to start a family.

"I actually remember her being shy," Perioux said.

"Well, that was her first year," Diana Degetaire said. "Student teaching, then actually teaching."

"She was like one of us," said Bernice Theriot. "We were about 16, 17, and she was 21, 22 years old."

The five women weren't particularly close friends in high school. They knew one another, of course, because there were only 88 people in their graduating class of 1966. They reconnected a few years ago at a classmate's funeral and have played cards together twice per month since.

The women took Blanco's typing class during their junior year of high school.

"She wouldn't allow us to use one finger at a time," said Grace Doré. "We had to put our hands on the keys."

"We had to use the proper technique," Breaux said. "She was a proper lady."

Blanco began teaching at Breaux Bridge High in 1964 under the guidance of Marie Louise "Bibble" Hebert.

Hebert, 89, remembers Blanco — then a student-teacher known as Ms. Babineaux — as a "very pleasant person" who "always had a smile."

"She was an excellent teacher," Hebert said. "Conversations we had were about the class and the material, how best to succeed as a teacher and how to encourage and bring out the best in the students."

When Hebert left the school later that year to work for the Louisiana Department of Education, Blanco took over her position as a full-fledged teacher.

Blanco taught typing, shorthand, bookkeeping and clerical classes.

She also led the school's chapter of Future Business Leaders of America, taking students to district and state meetings to compete in shorthand and typing contests.

Al Blanchard Jr., superintendent of schools for St. Martin Parish and former principal of Breaux Bridge High, said education was Blanco's priority from the start.

"It's something we're proud of," Blanchard said. "We're proud to say she did her teaching here. We have someone who rose to prominence right here in St. Martin Parish." 

Blanco's five former students said they were excited to vote their former teacher when she ran for governor in 2003 and even more excited when she became the first woman in the state elected to the position. They also said they were disappointed by the criticism she faced in the aftermath of hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005.

"We never thought when we had her as a teacher that she'd end up our governor one day," Breaux said. "She taught us typing and skills we needed for just about any job out there, but she also taught us how far a woman, a schoolteacher, a mother could go."

Before starting a new card game Wednesday afternoon, the five women tried to remember what grades they earned in Blanco's typing class. Their words quickly turned into shrill laughter.

"We all got A's!" they shouted over the laughter. "We all got A's!"

"We graduated for sure," Theriot said with a smile. "And the rest is history."

Email Megan Wyatt at mwyatt@theadvocate.com.