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'Mr. Jeff' a joy

Despite his handicap, Kearns always there for family and all at Lincolnshire Elementary

Despite his handicap, Kearns always there for family and all at Lincolnshire Elementary

May 27, 2007|By MARLO BARNHART

Editor's note: Each Sunday, The Herald-Mail publishes "A Life Remembered." This continuing series takes a look back - through the eyes of family, friends, co-workers and others - at a member of the community who died recently. Today's "A Life Remembered" is about Jeffery Milton Kearns, who died May 17 at the age of 48. His obituary appeared in the May 19 edition of The Herald-Mail.

Back in 1999, Jeff Kearns thought he might volunteer a couple of hours at Lincolnshire Elementary School when his son Brady was a student there.

That first year, he spent 41 hours at the school in Halfway.

The number of hours grew to 300 the second year, and in the third year, Jeff's hours totaled 1,200.

"From then on, he nearly lived here," said Sharon Ernst, family and community partnership coordinator at Lincolnshire.

Jeff, whose health had been declining, died May 17 at the age of 48 after more than a month at the University of Maryland Hospital. A survivor of both pancreatic and kidney transplants 13 years ago, Jeff also had lost a leg to diabetes.

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When he no longer could "work" because of his health, Jeff began his volunteering odyssey eight years ago. Sometimes, he was in the company of his wife, Robin Crilly Kearns, when she wasn't at her full-time job.

"Mr. Jeff," as he was known to staff, faculty and students, routinely would show up at the school every day around 7:15 a.m. He would make coffee and have the newspaper ready for anyone to read, according to Darlene Teach, principal at Lincolnshire.

"Many days, he was here long after the paid employees," Teach added in her written comments.

Amy Norris, a former assistant principal at Lincolnshire, recalled how Jeff always made her feel special, especially when she came back to work after the birth of her daughter, Libby.

Jeff printed out a picture of the newborn, put it in a pink frame and gave it to Amy on her first day back.

"He knew how much I would be missing her on that day," Amy said in her written comments.

After the coffee was made each morning, Jeff would throw himself into whatever needed to be done. He typed the school newsletter, did all of the laminating and stayed each day until his work was done.

"Mr. Jeff had a quick sense of humor," said Judy Ebersole, secretary at the school.

Jeff would cover for her if she was out because he knew how to do it all, Ebersole said.

"He always ran the copier," said Marsha Flowers, a fifth-grade teacher at Lincolnshire. "He probably knew more about it than most."

Marsha said she became closer to Jeff when she had the Kearns' son, Brady, in her class. In her comments at Jeff's funeral, she said she didn't know where to begin telling all of the good things about Jeff.

She said their casual school association evolved into Flowers-Kearns family outings. Then, when Jeff was hospitalized, Marsha said she tried to visit once a week, hold his hand and pray for him.

Deborah Lesher, an art teacher at Lincolnshire, said she knew something was wrong with Jeff on March 28, the last morning he was at the school.

"I got Marsha, and we prayed for Jeff," Deborah said. Later that day, Jeff went to the doctor and was admitted to the hospital.

While Robin, her mother, Marie Crilly, and Jeff's mother, Janet Bowen, are dealing with their loss, they also are striving to help Jeff's son.

Now 14, Brady recalls how his father, no matter how sick he was, always took the time to coach him in sports.

Marie said Jeff was more like a son than a son-in-law to her.

"Jeff had diabetes when he was in his middle teens," Janet said. But even as his health deteriorated, Jeff continued to live life to the outer limits of his abilities.

His mother said he often was frustrated that he couldn't work and support his family.

"So he came to school," she said.

Many times, Jeff showed up at Lincolnshire wearing his prosthetic leg. When he was feeling a little below par, he would go back to his wheelchair.

Former Lincolnshire teacher Rhonda Brechbill said she didn't know Jeff had a prosthetic leg for a long time because he never called attention to himself. Over the years, their association blossomed into a strong friendship.

Jeff's funeral on May 21 was specifically timed for late afternoon so the staff and faculty of Lincolnshire could attend. Afterward, more than 100 people gathered at the school to share their memories of Jeff.

Pattie Dell, a teacher, described Jeff as Lincolnshire's very own goodwill ambassador.

"He stood tall, whether he was in a wheelchair or not," Dell said.

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