I heard the news this morning that John Jankowich, a beloved teacher at Easton Area High School, passed away in Florida earlier this week at the age of 72.
As is typical for me whenever I receive news like this, my memory banks quickly took me back to where it all began. So come along with me for the ride….
When I was a bright-eyed, fresh-faced sophomore at Easton High School in 1984, one of the urban legends going around the hallowed halls was of a teacher who lived on the upper floors of the school and taught senior students the importance of mythological creatures like Zeus, Odin and Pegasus. To make things even more interesting, rumors swirled that this teacher also came to class dressed in full mythological garb. It was from that very moment I knew that “Mythology” had to be one of my 12 grade classes.
That was my first exposure to Mr. Jankowich and for the next two years all I heard about was how cool, how mean and how fun “Janks” was in his Mythology class and how I couldn’t wait to be one of his pupils.
Fast forward two years….
At the time of my arrival to Mr. Jank’s Mythology class in 1986 I was heavily into role-playing games like Dungeons & Dragons. So in addition to it being a course on literature, Mythology was also kind of like a pep talk for me about a world I one day longed to live in.
Another thing I fondly recall about Jank’s class was that it was also the first time I heard the word “reprobate”. It was a term he gleefully used to often describe his students…
“SIT DOWN YOU REPROBATES!”
…. and a term that I myself would become (unbeknownst to him) that following Spring….
One of the benefits of being a Senior at Easton High School in 1987 was being able to go off campus for 5th period lunch every day. So long as you were doing well in class you were eligible to leave the premises with your homies for a ninety-minute visit to the local McDonalds, Burger King or Richard’s Drive-In. Yes, it was the ultimate perk for being a senior. Unless of course your grades weren’t quite up to par or you didn’t follow the rules of the school.
Mr. Jankowich had the
wonderful opportunity of overseeing that 5th period. A ninety-minute “class” that ran through all three lunch periods and was held daily in the school’s auditorium. This class was intended to be used as a silent place of study but ironically became the final destination for school reprobates under the name, “restricted study hall” or “restricted” for short.
“SIT DOWN YOU REPROBATES!”
Bad grades, tardiness and other devious and malicious intent would always result in the removal of senior privileges and land you a spot in Jank’s “class” where silence was strictly enforced.
But Jimmy Wood (who had refused to dress for swimming in gym class and had thus landed in restricted) had other intentions. Jimmy found himself stuck for a week in Jank’s class while his other classmates were out enjoying spring afternoons over a Big Mac, Whopper or Greasy Dick’s cheeseburger – and Jimmy didn’t like it.
So Jimmy the reprobate came up with a plan.
One day during restricted, Jimmy asked Mr. Jankowich if he could go to the gym. Jimmy told Jank that he wanted to get excuse passes made to allow him to go make-up his swimming requirement during 5th period. Mr. Jankowich – now proud of Jimmy’s desire to do good, agreed and sent Jimmy on his way. But what Jank didn’t know was that Jimmy would have something more sinister in mind.
Jimmy kept his word though and went down to the gym and had Ms. David (the instructor) write him up several slips excusing him from restricted in order to make up gym class.
The next day at 5th period, Jimmy showed Mr. Jankowich the signed pass. Jank happily patted Jimmy on the head and excused him from restricted. But as Jimmy made his way down the hall to gym he realized that there was now nothing to stop him from simply leaving the school and joining his friends for lunch. I mean, he really was excused from restricted, right? So for the next five days, Jimmy showed Jank the pass, received a pat on the head and then enjoyed the freedom from restricted until his full senior privileges were reinstated.
And he lived happily ever after….
Although I’m sure he would have gotten a giggle out of my mischievous deed now, I never saw Mr. Jankowich again after graduation. But I will never forget that spring, how much fun his class was or when he came to school dressed like he was going to a toga party.
John Jankowich’s obituary stated that he taught English, British Literature and Mythology for over 30 years and also taught English as a Second Language to immigrants in night school for 18 years. The four loves of his life were God, family, friends and education and he used those blessings to help others —-
—- including this reprobate.
RIP Mr. Jank.