Vale Jan Reibel: The community says a heartfelt goodbye to a much-loved friend and teacher

The sun shone brightly on the first day of Spring for a memorial service of former Macksville Public School teacher and assistant principal Jan Reibel, who passed away on August 25 after a brave battle with cancer. 

Jan was a caring, loyal friend to hundreds and a teacher to generations.

Jan was a caring, loyal friend to hundreds and a teacher to generations.

On September 1, hundreds filled the Macksville Public School hall to say their last heartfelt goodbyes to a much-loved mentor, inspiration and friend.

During Jan’s memorial service her loving nieces Melinda, Karina and Sally read the very fitting poem, When Tomorrow Starts Without Me.

Former teaching colleagues and friends Morelle, Pam, and Dennis also paid tribute; while Pat Carruthers read one of Jan’s many little ditties and enlightened everyone to Jan’s sense of humour.

Jan’s very good friend Eva Roberts commenced the ceremony, for her mum Val, with welcome to country.

Jan’s friend and former colleague Brendan Gillis read aloud a poem Jan wanted all to hear, before he continued with a respectful eulogy of a woman who was so well-loved by her community. 

The poem Jan wanted all to hear:

The Dash by Linda Ellis

I read of a man who stood to speak at the funeral of a friend. He referred to the dates on her tombstone from the beginning to the end. He noted that first came the date of her birth, and spoke of the following date with tears, but he said what mattered most of all, was the dash between those years.

For that dash represents all the time that she spent alive on earth, and now only those who loved her know what that little line is worth. For it matters not, how much we own, the cars, the house, the cash. What matters is how we live and love, and how we spend our dash.

So think about this long and hard; Are there things you’d like to change? For you never know how much time is left, that can still be rearranged. If we could just slow down enough to consider what’s true and real, and always try to understand the way other people feel. And be less quick to anger and show appreciation more, And love the people in our lives like we’ve never loved before. If we treat each other with respect, and more often wear a smile, remembering that this special dash might only last a little while.

So when your eulogy is being read with your life’s actions to rehash, Would you be proud of the things they say about how you spent your dash?

Jan loved her farm and her garden with a passion.

Jan loved her farm and her garden with a passion.

Vale Jan Reibel 

Eulogy by Brendan Gillis

Jan Reibel should have been proud of her dash through life, and if she ever doubted herself, she shouldn’t have. She was a loving mother, sister, aunty, grandmother and great grandmother. Caring, compassionate, tenacious, funny, intelligent, independent, brave…

Jan was a talented writer and an entertaining poet, a beekeeper, a recycler, a friend to all living creatures, a keeper of dogs and cows and chickens, and known affectionately by my mother and probably others, as “The Egg-Lady”.

A caring loyal friend to hundreds… And a teacher to generations! Jan was renowned for her kindness and generosity. A family-focussed woman who loved her brother and sisters, her children James, David and Steven; her grandchildren Keera, Jack, Ellie, Lachlan and Mackenzie; her great grandchildren Willow and Arlo, and many other members of her extended family, some who couldn’t make it here today.

Jan’s Dash started in 1945, born to Ruby and George Nash in The Old School Hall, then known as Macksville Hospital. The eldest of four children, sister to Brian (dec) Cheryl and Judi, she grew up on a dairy farm, and attended Talarm School, Macksville High and Armidale Teachers College.

 The eldest of four children, Jan grew up on a dairy farm at Talarm.

The eldest of four children, Jan grew up on a dairy farm at Talarm.

At the age of 20 after training as a primary school teacher, Jan was appointed to her first school - Wyrallah Road Public School in Lismore. Her first class 48 kindy kids! Her first pay of $40! Less than $1 per child!

Her Dash continued when as a young married woman, Jan moved from Macksville to Sydney, to Taylors Arm, to Macksville, and to Rhones Creek in 1987. Her three sons were born along the way and as they grew, she ferried them to countless cricket matches, and spent school holidays camping at Grassy and Scotts Head.

For the next 38 years, Jan passionately embraced teaching. It was here at Macksville Public School that I met her in 1976. I was impressed with her kind-heartedness, and her ability to see the small details that affected the lives of her students. She was interested in them and their families, and absorbed their generational history.

A great teacher is one a student remembers and cherishes, and there are many stories exhibiting the compassion and respect that Jan had for her students. Like when a child in her class came to school with an eyepatch which the doctor said she needed to wear for a week. Jan made that week Pirate Week, and all the kids got to wear an eyepatch.

She would notice a child’s shoes were worn out, and go down in her lunchbreak to buy them a new pair, or pay for them to attend a show at school so they wouldn’t feel left out.

Jan with her sons. She loved her sons and always spoke of all three with pride.

Jan with her sons. She loved her sons and always spoke of all three with pride.

Jan improved the lives of so many children, starting at their first days in Kindergarten and right up until they left for high school. She began at Kindergarten Transition days, where she would famously crush up a packet of chips, pour the crumbs into a dish, and teach new parents that 20 grams of salt and oil was not enough to make little brains grow!

She performed that trick for a decade or more to new parents, kindly offering her brand of straightforward advice that was non-judgmental and two-fold: It’s fine to give them the chips, but give them an apple as well! And that example showed how Jan thought. If you are going to debunk something, make sure you offer constructive advice. This consistency gained her much respect and friendship in the community over the years, and proved the age-old universal law of good karma, that what goes around, comes around.

Jan’s kindness reflected back on her in many ways positive and constantly showed her self-less-ness. She would ring Mark Strachan at Radio 2MC and help him out supplying jokes. Karma came back when she won first prize in a competition. The prize was a cruise, which she traded in for second prize - a Glenn McGrath cricket bat – to give to her boys. She loved her sons and as long as I knew her, she spoke of all three with pride.

She was born and raised with values to look after others. And it wasn’t always just about helping children.

Jan was on the Steering Committee for the Talarm Hall renovations. She had positions on the Talarm Volunteer Rural Fire Service. She was on the lolly trolley in Macksville Hospital. She volunteered at the “front table” as well as donating blood both in Coffs Harbour and in Macksville. She was a Volunteer Show Steward, and spent hours being part of the team each year, putting together the vegetable displays.

Jan also entered her own vegetables and other displays into the show, one year most proudly winning the Brian Grace Award for Most Successful Exhibitor.

Jan was born and raised with values to look after others - she dedicated her life to it.

Jan was born and raised with values to look after others - she dedicated her life to it.

She was heavily involved with local garden clubs, so passionate that years after retirement she proudly completed Certificates 2 and 3 in a TAFE Horticulture course at Macksville. She didn’t complete Certificate 1, she was way too clever for that. Jan so loved her gardening that she engineered the local Garden Gala and made it the success it is today for our Valley.

We also can’t forget about how big a part of her life was school-oriented, both in and out of school hours. Following her retirement as assistant principal, Jan made it her mission for a few years to help the teachers out with annual Melbourne Cup Luncheons. She did mountains of cooking and organising, knowing that the teachers wouldn’t otherwise get to celebrate something the rest of Australia stops work for.

From 2006, she turned her grief from the loss of her son James, into a positive by sponsoring the James Reibel Memorial Library and Support Teachers Awards.

She was a school patron, and among other contributions, she sponsored the Sporting and Swimming Trophies each year. She was a Life Member of MPS P&C and in previous years spent many hours at car-boot sales, fetes, farm auction barbecues on Saturdays, and judging at school athletics carnivals after retirement. If Jan came, the cookies came.

Over the past few years, she read stories at The Town Library National Simultaneous Readings and relished the task, bringing along dress-ups and props! She spent time one-on-one in reading programs at school with children who needed help. She really loved this school and its community.

A friend to all living creatures, a keeper of dogs and cows and chickens, Jan loved life on the farm.

A friend to all living creatures, a keeper of dogs and cows and chickens, Jan loved life on the farm.

Jan was always busy, always had something on the boil. She loved her farm and her garden with a passion. After our visits to her place, I often pictured her sitting out the front of the house, contemplating the stars through the smoke and making plans for tomorrow. She never wasted a moment.

Jan was always interesting, her phone-calls ripe with opinion and raw honesty. She was very proud of her farming heritage, and fiercely independent. Right up until two weeks back, she was still driving around the Valley and refusing offers of help. She was a Golden Oldie and revelled in her friendships.

We all watched Jan deal with different health issues over the decades. Pulling through and surprising us when we thought she may not. She was an inspiration and it was easy to think of her as indestructible. Such was her grit and resilience.

Her loss now leaves a gulf in all of our lives and the world is a lesser place without her.

If ever there can be a right day for hold a memorial for Jan, September 1 was the right day… a beautiful day, the first day of spring. The day all gardeners wait for.

From the beginning to the end: Jan Reibel spent a most inspired dash through a distinctive life, enriched with the love of family and community spirit. It was an honour to be her friend.

The family would like to thank everyone for their generous donations at Jan’s memorial service to the Macksville Palliative Care.  

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