Avonworth mourns loss of teacher

The rare type of leukemia that claimed Avonworth teacher Jeff Boggess's life on July 5 came on so suddenly and then progressed so insidiously once diagnosed last October that those who knew him found it difficult to believe.

Mr. Boggess, who lived in Ohio Township, had taught social studies at the high school since 2001, using traditional as well as contemporary methods to provide relevance to the lessons of history, working to ensure that those lessons would long be remembered.

Referring to the effectiveness of Jeff's teaching style, Avonworth superintendent Dr. Thomas Ralston said, "Mr. Boggess had a genuine passion for teaching young people the relevance of the social sciences and the responsibilities of informed citizenship. Through unique and creative lessons, he impacted the lives of many, many students and left a lasting legacy in the Avonworth School District community."

Expressing similar sentiments, assistant superintendent Dr. Kenneth Lockette said, "Jeff made learning fun by integrating popular culture, when appropriate, and helping students make connections with historical events and today. Learning was what it should be, with the students being actively in the center of the learning process. It was not unusual for Jeff to play guitar or have his students do simulations like creating bunker warfare from World War I."

Whether jamming on guitar with colleagues or students at Children's Hospital fund-raisers or pumping enthusiasm into some of the more esoteric points of American history, Jeff Boggess gave his all.

Former and current students flooded Facebook with comments and remembrances, perhaps none as poignant as Class of '14 Maryana Stern's posting, which reads in part, "When I had almost no one, he was there. He made me stay on track in school and in life. Thanks to him, I am studying [at Duquesne U.] to be a 7-12 social studies teacher."

Colleagues also spoke highly of him.

Guidance counselor Dave Como said, "Jeff encouraged and enjoyed 'out-of-the-box' thinking as well as discussing opinions. Jeff's passions were contagious, and you could not help but be drawn into his thirst for and knowledge of music, as well as anything technical or electronic. Through all of his uniqueness and intelligence, Jeff made each day worthwhile as a teacher and as a friend."

Among many others:

"No matter how busy, Jeff always took the time to listen. He provided sound, logical and rational advice. I am forever grateful that I can call Jeff my friend." Social studies teacher Breanna Maisner;

"The Avonworth community lost an amazing father, husband, teacher and friend." Science teacher Kelly Walbush;

"There has been a noticeable silence and missing presence at Avonworth since Jeff had to leave in October. I missed his wisdom, candor, humor and care. Jeff gave of himself as a teacher for his students. He cared about making them better citizens, wiser Americans and informed future voters." English teacher Scott Tuffiash.

Ralston noted that in addition to his teaching duties, "Mr. Boggess also served as sponsor for the Model United Nations, an officer with the Avonworth Education Association, a team leader for the Avonworth Career Academies, and a participant in the Pittsburgh Change Agents program. Because of his expertise in the art of teaching, Mr. Boggess was also often selected to serve as a mentor for novice teachers entering the district. His innovative teaching strategies, sense of humor, and supportive leadership inspired both students and colleagues alike."

Kris Work, Class of '06, now on staff at the University of Utah, noted, "Everyone has so many amazing things to say about Mr. Boggess and they are all true. I'll never forget his class and his genuine teaching style."

So many kind words of a life well lived, although, at age 37, far too short. And for all of those kind words and the many gestures of help and kindness over the past 10 months, Jeff's wife, Stephanie, shared her appreciation.

"The Avonworth community for the past eight months has mastered the delicate balance of respecting our family's privacy and being an ever-present force of love, kindness, generosity and support.

“Jeff loved teaching, it was his calling. Year after year, he embraced the challenge of being the best teacher and co-worker he could be.

“There were no early evenings, long holidays and summer vacations that people like to think teachers have. The great ones dedicate themselves to improving their craft all year long. People would ask how he could deal with teenagers all the time. The truth is that he could see each student as an individual. He celebrated their successes and realized that setbacks could be the foundation for growth.

“I'm sorry that he won't be able to see the incredible successes and adventures his students, past and current, will have. He would be cheering them on and congratulating them.

“The staff throughout the district has provided a safe, positive place for our daughters to cope and grieve, for which I will be eternally grateful. Jeff firmly believed in keeping our daughters in the district, in the education and experience they would receive here.

I am sorry for your loss, too. He meant something to each of you; he had a life and community that he loved at Avonworth.

“Each act of kindness has been a source of strength to get to the next day. Our daughters and I will spend the rest of our lives being grateful, present and repaying your generosity in kind.

“With gratitude, love and appreciation," Stephanie Letzkus.

Visitation will be held on Monday, July 13, 1-4 p.m., 6-8 p.m., with a memorial service onTuesday, July 14 at 11 a.m., both at Devlin Funeral Home of Cranberry Township.


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