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Published: Wednesday, 9/21/2011

Beloved teacher absent as school year opens

Colleagues, students at Frank Elementary mourn

BY GABRIELLE RUSSON
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Karen Ash, who taught fourth grade, was known for her lively science instruction. Karen Ash, who taught fourth grade, was known for her lively science instruction.
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Karen Ash was a teacher known for playing air guitar and pretending to be a rock star when she wanted to get her students' attention.

She was full of energy as she made up songs about the life-cycle of a plant or shot marshmallows into the air with rubber bands to explain about force.

"She never shied away from experiments that got the kids all excited and rowdy," said her husband, Mark Ash. "That's how they learn, and she loved it."

The veteran fourth-grade teacher was still upbeat and enthusiastic even after she learned in 2008 that she had ovarian cancer, colleagues said.

Mrs. Ash kept teaching at Frank Elementary throughout her chemotherapy treatments and doctor's appointments, up until a few months before her death on Aug. 28 at age 43.

"She was a fighter," said teacher Jewel Woodard, who was hired at the same time as Mrs. Ash in 1993. "She wasn't going to go away quietly."

Principal Brent Swartzmiller said the school plans to work with Mrs. Ash's husband to find a way to pay tribute to her.

In the classroom, Mrs. Ash -- who studied elementary education at Heidelberg College -- was an entertainer. She often sang and danced, joking with students that she was the next American Idol.

"The kids weren't just staring at her sitting behind her desk," said Jennifer Stoffel. Her passion was science, especially hands-on experiments. For children, it was memorable.

Others said they remembered her more for being their confidante.

Nichole Rorigi, now 18, went to her science teacher almost a decade ago when she had troubles and needed advice.

Jennifer Stoffel and Jewel Woodard pause in Karen Ash's classroom to remember their colleague. 'She wanted to … be around the kids,' Mr. Woodard says. Jennifer Stoffel and Jewel Woodard pause in Karen Ash's classroom to remember their colleague. 'She wanted to … be around the kids,' Mr. Woodard says.
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Years removed from elementary school, students in high school or college would still stop into Mrs. Ash's classroom to greet her. When the Ashes were out shopping or at restaurants, former students constantly stopped them.

"She was really close with a lot of her students, even as we grew up," said Miss Rorigi, a Perrysburg senior.

At home, Mrs. Ash had a much quieter persona.

She loved reading thrillers, watching CSI on television, and working in her yard.

She was also a regular spectator at the athletic events of her two children, Brandon, 15, and Emily, 13.

"We seldom missed a game or a practice," said Mr. Ash, who met his wife in German class during their sophomore year of high school.

After Mrs. Ash's cancer diagnosis, she underwent a nearly constant stream of treatments.

She lost weight, some of her hair fell out, and she looked tired.

But Mrs. Ash didn't complain or want any attention on herself for having cancer, her colleagues said.

"The one thing she wanted was for her life to be as normal as possible -- for her family and the students here," Mr. Swartzmiller said.

"She wanted to work as much as she could, be around the kids," Mr. Woodard added. "In many ways, it took away some of her anguish and pain."

School was also a place where Mrs. Ash found support.

Other teachers brought her family meals and drove her teenage children to their events when Mr. Ash needed help.

Mrs. Ash taught at Frank up until she underwent surgery in March, 2011. She decided to take the rest of the school year to recover but was "bound and determined" to return this summer, her husband said.

For the first time, Frank was getting air conditioning, and after nearly 20 years of 100-degree classrooms, Mrs. Ash didn't want to miss out.

Several of her colleagues said Mrs. Ash is sorely missed.

"She was a great teacher and an even better person," Mr. Woodard said.

Contact Gabrielle Russon at: grusson@theblade.com or 419-724-6026.



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