Local educator retires after 43 years

End of an era: After 43 years at Clara Bar­ton Ele­ment­ary School, Jef­frey Garber has re­tired.

Jef­frey Garber began his ca­reer in edu­ca­tion some 40 years ago as a stu­dent teach­er at Mor­rell Park’s John Han­cock Ele­ment­ary School, which was newly opened at the time.

Prin­cip­al Alex To­bin liked the young edu­cat­or and re­com­men­ded him to Bill Win­gel, prin­cip­al at Clara Bar­ton Ele­ment­ary School in Felton­ville. Win­gel hired Garber in 1970.

“I’ve been here ever since,” Garber said.

Garber re­cently com­pleted his 43rd year at Bar­ton, but won’t be back for a 44th. He’s re­tired.

“I was hem­ming and haw­ing,” he said of the dif­fi­cult de­cision. “I just thought it’s time. I’ve been in school since I was 5 years old.”

Garber, 64, lives in Ben­s­alem with his wife, Irene, a teach­er at Woo­drow Wilson Middle School in Castor Gar­dens, but lived in the North­east most of his life.

He grew up on the 6900 block of Large St. and at­ten­ded Sol­is-Co­hen Ele­ment­ary School, the old Wilson Ju­ni­or High and North­east High School. He earned a de­gree in edu­ca­tion from Temple Uni­versity.

Get­ting the job at Bar­ton was spe­cial be­cause his par­ents, Irv and Audrey, at­ten­ded the school. They live in Bustleton.

For many years, Bar­ton edu­cated kinder­gart­ners to eighth-graders. Garber, known as “Mr. G” or “Garbs,” taught sci­ence and his­tory to sev­enth- and eighth-graders for 23 years.

For two of those years, he handled a chal­len­ging group of pu­pils who re­ferred to them­selves as the “Sweathogs,” the nick­name of the high school stu­dents in the tele­vi­sion show Wel­come Back Kot­ter.

“Nobody wanted them. They couldn’t handle them. I said I’ll take them,” he said.

Garber taught those young people skills such as mak­ing change and bal­an­cing a check­book. In­stead of us­ing text­books every day, they’d read com­ic strips.

“Read­ing is read­ing. It doesn’t mat­ter what it is,” he said.

Today, Bar­ton has more than 800 pu­pils in kinder­garten and first and second grades. The cam­pus, at 4600 N. Rose­hill St., also in­cludes Felton­ville In­ter­me­di­ate School for third- through fifth-graders and Felton­ville Arts and Sci­ence for sixth- through eighth-graders.

For the last 20 years, Garber was dean of stu­dents/as­sist­ant to the prin­cip­al at Bar­ton. He spent more than 30 years as the Phil­adelphia Fed­er­a­tion of Teach­ers build­ing rep­res­ent­at­ive.

Garber is an an­im­al lov­er. He and Bar­ton pu­pils col­lec­ted money for 25 years to donate to the nearby Pennsylvania SPCA shel­ter.

He also teamed with the Home and School As­so­ci­ation to raise money so every room could be air con­di­tioned.

“He’s an in­sti­tu­tion walk­ing out the door,” said prin­cip­al Colleen Bowen.

Over the years, Felton­ville has changed a lot. It was gen­er­ally a flour­ish­ing middle-class neigh­bor­hood through the 1980s, but today ap­pears to be more blighted. Years ago, stu­dents at Bar­ton and the since-closed St. Am­brose used to walk home for lunch.

Garber nev­er wanted to leave the neigh­bor­hood or the school.

“People were very good to me in the be­gin­ning. They knew me. I knew them. I felt I owed them,” he said.

Bar­ton will have quite a new look next year as Garber joins 13 teach­ers in re­tire­ment.

From his view as dean of stu­dents, Garber has a spe­cial ap­pre­ci­ation for today’s teach­ers. They deal with all kinds of pa­per­work, dis­cip­line is­sues, prob­lem par­ents and a lack of classroom re­sources.

“They de­serve a lot of cred­it, these teach­ers,” he said.

As Garber’s ca­reer wound down, he was heartened to re­ceive con­grat­u­lat­ory emails from former stu­dents.

His sum­mer plans in­clude spend­ing time at his va­ca­tion home in Brig­antine, N.J. One hobby is mod­el trains. He is also look­ing for­ward to spend­ing more time with his fam­ily, which in­cludes two adult sons, an adult daugh­ter and 12 grand­chil­dren.

Garber can see him­self wak­ing up on an early Septem­ber morn­ing and not know­ing what to do with him­self, but he ex­pects to ad­just.

As he re­laxes on the beach in Brig­antine, he ex­pects his thoughts will drift to all the good times at Clara Bar­ton Ele­ment­ary School.

“I wouldn’t trade this for any­thing,” he said. “I have a lot of great memor­ies.” ••

You can reach at twaring@bsmphilly.com.

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