Park Forest teacher remembered she donated $10,000

You could probably make a movie out of anyone’s life. It could be a drama or a horror story.

This is a love story.

Last month, retired elementary school teacher Doug Leech donated $10,000 to Park Forest County Elementary 163 to purchase 750 books, which are divided into one book for each student from kindergarten through third grade.

Family and friends donated money to honor Jane Wilkinson Leech, Doug’s beloved wife who died of cancer last August. The Leach family has been stuck in the area for more than three decades.

Jane, who was appointed as a teacher in 1971, taught elementary classes. Doug worked in 1972, teaching sixth grade and social studies in middle school.

Their life together began as if it were the plot of a romantic comedy. It’s called When Doug Met Jane. They came from different sides of the country. Doug grew up in South Chicago Heights, and went to Bloom High School and Coe College in Iowa. Jane, from Herren Downstate, is a graduate of Southern Illinois University.

Doug never forgot the day and the place they first met.

Cue the scene.

“It was a Saturday afternoon in 1973 and I was at Merlin’s on the plaza when a pretty girl smiled at me and asked me to go sky diving,” Doug said.

Although Jane Wilkinson and Doug were teachers in District 163, they had not met until that point.

“She was with a club looking for 12 people who needed a picnic,” he recalls.

Turns out Doug was just number six. Somehow the numbers didn’t matter. He went sky diving and they started seeing each other. Fast forward to Thanksgiving 1974 when the two got married. They bought a house on Sioux Street in Park Forest, where they raised two children, Christopher and Alison, while continuing to teach.

They both retired in 2003 and by that time had moved from Forest Park to Richton Park and then to New Lenox. But the two still served five more years as district advisors. Jane was still in the Reading Recovery Program at Mohawk, Blackhawk, and Beacon Hill Schools while Doug was in charge of an alternate.

Jane was a quilt manufacturer and enjoyed making covers for family and friends. She was a passionate golfer, and for 15 years she was an active tennis player at the Park Forest Tennis and Health Club.

This movie was supposed to end with a pink sunset as a fade, but the scenario changed when Jane was diagnosed with a rare form of bile duct cancer. Her death raises an inescapable family question about how to honor her life. Doug said the usual tiered money to a group or charity was not to his liking.

It was their daughter Alison who suggested the Go Fund Me Facebook page. Donations, large and small, were pouring in as those who knew this powerful teacher began to spread the word. The result was overwhelming. Within one month, $10,000 had been raised in Jane’s Reading Page. Next, Doug reached out to District 163 Director Kalitha White.

He wanted to continue Jane’s work and thought of award-winning children’s books, and mentioned “Trombone Shorty,” the life story of a musician. There have been plenty of children’s books that have won national awards. They were books that would appeal to younger students and might have been books that Jane used as part of her efforts.

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How many books can be bought for $10,000?

Doug said that when he told the supervisor that it was enough to provide every student in elementary school with one book, he was moved.

“I never thought we could do that,” he said.

The circle was completed when he was told that all students would receive a book this Thanksgiving, Doug and Jane’s wedding anniversary.

This story will live on in the minds of every child affected by a book that one teacher gave in memory of another. Hopefully it’s a play forward and a movie without an end scene.

Jerry Schnay is a freelance columnist for The Daily Southtown.

jerryshnay@gmail.com

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