‘She cared about her students’

Jennifer Anderson has left a lasting legacy on the Prairieview-Ogden School District.

“She taught students lessons that go beyond the classroom,” said PVO Superintendent Vic White.

Anderson passed away on April 2 after a six year battle with pancreatic cancer.

White said Anderson, who previously taught band at Holy Cross School, came to PVO in August 2007. She earned her Masters degree in music and saxophone performance from the University of Illinois in 2006 and graduated from Ithaca College in 2004 with a degree in music education.

“Jennifer Anderson was loved by her students and her colleagues,” White said.

Anderson taught fifth through eighth grade band and chorus as well as teaching junior high social studies.

A few years ago, Anderson approached White asking what she could do to ensure she could stay working in the district.

White told her that they would have a junior high social studies teacher retiring in two years and urged her to get her middle school social studies endorsement so the district could hire her to fill that position.

“She started taking classes immediately,” White said.

Anderson approached White again a few years go, while under going cancer treatment, and asked if PVO could start a scholastic bowl team that she would coach.

“The main thing that Jennifer had was the love of teaching and the love for the students,” White said. “She was like a second Mom to many students and was always doing things to help others.”

Heritage Band Director Justin Lee worked with Anderson on the high school solo and ensemble contests that Heritage hosts as well as hosting two joint band performances.

“Jen was a valued colleague and dear friend,” Lee said. “Every time we worked together, whether it was on co-hosting a contest, joint band performance or just talking through the challenges of the profession, her students were always first in her mind.”

Lee said Anderson wanted her students to have a positive, affirming, life-changing experience that they wouldn’t soon forget.

“She always had an encouraging word and was quick to laugh at the corniest joke,” Lee said. “I will definitely miss that.”  

Prairieview-Ogden Administrative Assistant Lynda Duval said Anderson’s passing was a sad day for PVO.

“I cannot say enough about her drive and strength during these past few years,” Duval said.

Duval said on some mornings Anderson would come into the office at PVO South with a large smile and a healthy smoothie in hand. She and Duval would compare what flavor smoothie they were drinking that day as Anderson at down to chat for a few moments.

Other mornings Anderson would call Duval around 5:30 a.m.

“I could tell by her voice that she was absolutely miserable and in more pain than I can even imagine,” she said. “Nevertheless, her main concern was asking for a certain substitute teacher so that the kids wouldn’t miss out just because she wasn’t going to be there. I would reassure her that I definitely would try. I feel so thankful and blessed to have had the opportunity to work with Jen even if it was for just a short time. Her love and dedication to her students and work should be an inspiration to us all.”

Kathryn Olson taught with Anderson from 2011-15 at PVO Junior High.

Olson said Anderson’s death will be felt by the entire PVO community.

“Mrs. A, as she was affectionately called by her students, was so much more than a teacher to all of us,” she said. “She was a friend, a confidant and a role model for countless students and teachers throughout the community.  Jen made everyone’s day a little brighter and I’m so thankful for the precious memories I’ll always have of our time teaching together.”

Olson said Anderson handled her cancer battle with strength and perseverance as she endured hours of chemotherapy treatments and then would head to school to teach her students as well as volunteering to take tickets at extra curricular events, coach scholastic bowl, lead student council and take students on music trips.

Anderson also kept a not so secret stash of candy near her desk at the junior high for students who were having a bad day, did well on an assignment or just needed a pick me up.

“She cared about her students and wanted to support them in any way she could,” Olson said.  “Jen lived her life serving and loving others, even in the most difficult of times.”

White agreed and said that Anderson embodied everything PVO tries to teach their students including love, dedication, respect and putting family first.

White said Anderson was an inspiration for not only the PVO students, but the whole community.

“She inspired all of the PVO families with  her fighting cancer attitude, especially putting everyone else first even though she was not feeling well,” White said.

Whitney Setterdahl was a former student of Anderson’s.

Setterdahl described Anderson as a safe haven for herself and her peers.

“When you forgot your homework or your lunch and needed to call your parents, Mrs. A was the first person we turned to,” Setterdahl said.

Setterdahl said Anderson and her husband Chris, who is also an area music educator and performer, gave a lot of their time to the students of PVO.

“I always considered Mrs. A more than just my teacher, but my friend,” Setterdahl said.

When Setterdahl was diagnosed with papillary thyroid cancer her freshman year of college she reached out to Jennifer.

“She had been fighting for a few years at this point and she prided herself on her strength, dignity and grace, which are all things that have deeply inspired me,” Setterdahl said.

Setterdahl and Jennifer both received treatment at Barnes-Jewish Hospital in St. Louis.  The two women met up while they were both there to get coffee.

“She offered clarity to our concerns and truly brought a breath of fresh air to myself and my family,” Setterdahl said. “I’ll never be able to vocalize the effect Mrs. Anderson has left on me.

In the close-knit community of PVO, she was a prominent figure of strength and compassion. The care she had for each and every student was unparalleled. I’ll always be grateful to her for offering her time and opening her heart to me.”

Anderson’s visitation will be from 5-8  p.m.on Friday April 13 at Sunset Funeral Home in Champaign, with a service celebrating her life on Saturday April 14 at 2 p.m. at  St. John’s Lutheran Church in Royal.

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