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Former Salem educator lauded after her passing

Janis Yereb taught high school art for 51 years, the longest tenure in history of the district

Janis Yereb

SALEM –Salem Schools Superintendent Sean Kirkland honored a Salem High School education legend Monday, eulogizing the late great Janis Yereb, the retired longtime art teacher who passed away last week.

Both then and now, her passion was her students, from the kids in her classroom studio during a 51-year career, to the Burchfield Homestead Museum visitors whom she educated on all things Charles Burchfield. She loved to share her knowledge of art with anyone and everyone, always with a smile and an unwavering sense of style.

Kirkland, who had been her student in high school, recalled a story that still sticks out in his mind, one that showed who she was and how she felt about her students. As a young substitute teacher, his concern was always whether the person whose class he was teaching left detailed lesson plans. One day he got a call to sub for “Jan” as she was known and was reluctant, knowing the state of her desk and studio.

He said he accepted the task and couldn’t have been more wrong, finding not only detailed lesson plans in plain view but also a two-page typed letter explaining her expectations of him. He said he’ll never forget how her letter started.

“Today, you have the opportunity to work with the greatest kids in America,” he said she wrote.

That’s what she was all about.

“Job well done, Jan. Rest in peace,” Kirkland said.

Yereb was the longest tenured teacher ever in Salem school district history, hired in September 1961 and retiring in August 2012 for a total of 51 years. Friend David Schwartz, whose wife Arlene taught with Yereb for many years, described her as “a teacher’s teacher” who had a great impact on thousands upon thousands of Salem High School students.

“What she did was give them a great vision of what they could do and what they could be after they left her class. She made the kids think for themselves in many ways,” he said.

Schwartz and Yereb were both members of Salem Preservation and he said she was a very giving person, not only at school but in the whole Salem community. She portrayed Lady Bird Johnson in the First Ladies Group of Salem Preservation, and also portrayed Caroline Harrison and Jackie Kennedy. She was a co-founder of the Salem Storybook Museum, along with fellow educator Elizabeth Thatcher, and also worked alongside another fellow teacher, Bob Viencek, at the museum.

“She will be missed by many, many people,” Schwartz said.

Perhaps the biggest hole to be filled after her death will be the one left at the Burchfield, where she was a founding member of the Burchfield Homestead Society, serving as the director and most recently as president of the society and curator for the museum. She was instrumental in designing the many Christmas trees fashioned after Burchfield artwork and featured in the Trains & Trees exhibit on Thanksgiving weekend, the latest just a few short months ago.

Upon the death of Dick Wootten, who had been instrumental in getting Burchfield’s boyhood home and turning it into a museum, Yereb said she felt honored to have been chosen by him as a founding member of the Burchfield Homestead Society. She said Wootten was an inspiration — many could probably say the same about her as the community reflects on her passing.

“We’re going to miss her. She was a guiding light there, the spirit of our organization,” attorney Fred Naragon said.

Naragon provided the train part of the Trains & Trees exhibit and worked alongside Yereb for many years with the Burchfield Homestead Society. Her death was announced on the Burchfield Homestead Society social media page, prompting many a comment from former students who cherished the lessons learned from their “Miss Yereb.”

She’ll be honored the day before the society’s annual meeting this year, with a memorial service to be held at 3 p.m. April 18 at the Stark Memorial Funeral Home. The details of her life can be read in her obituary on page A3.

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