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Commemorating the lasting impact of Mary Jane Reed

Image of Mary Jane Reed courtesy of DeJohn Funeral Homes & Celebrations Center.
Image of Mary Jane Reed courtesy of DeJohn Funeral Homes & Celebrations Center.

Mary Jane Reed began teaching English at SHS in 1979, where she eventually became Chair of the English Department as well as being the advisor for “The SHS Courier.” She worked for years trying to better students’ writing and help them grow.

Born in 1940, Reed grew up as a proud second generation Italian in Shaker Heights, Ohio, eventually attending Shaker Heights High School in which she excelled academically and athletically.

Reed furthered her education and earned a Bachelor’s degree at the University of Michigan. She then taught English at Mayfield High School where she met her husband James Reed.

The couple settled in Cleveland Heights and then eventually moved to Solon with their son James Reed Jr. and had their daughter Kristen Reed. Jane then earned her Master’s Degree in Education from John Carroll University. During that time, Reed traveled throughout Europe, accompanying her husband who was a study abroad administrator.

As Reed raised her kids, she returned to the classroom teaching English at Solon High School in 1979, eventually rising to the leadership role of Chair of the English Department where she made a mark on the future of English education.

Current SHS English teacher Laura Fitch describes her first experience with Reed as being a bit daunting.

“The first time I met her was when I was interviewed for the first time,” said Fitch. “I adored Mary Jane. She was a little intimidating at first to me because she was an excellent teacher [with] very high standards [who] asked some tough questions in the interview, and I was very nervous but as soon as I started working with her, she was just such a caring individual.”

Reed’s first impressions caused some to be hesitant about working with her, but once she and her coworkers were acquainted, they were able to truly understand who she was.

“I really appreciated her attention to detail, and she was a very petite woman, but she was strong and powerful,” SHS English teacher Nanci Bush said. “She was very commanding and was really tough with kids with their essays and made everything so perfect.”

Former student and companion Katie Wetherbee has always felt as cared for when she was friends with Reed.

“During a particularly challenging time when my child was very ill, she wrote me a note that I have kept for over 20 years,” said Wetherbee. “In the note, she expressed such empathy and support for what appeared to be an uncertain season ahead. Her words gave me courage. This was the very essence of who she was, and the legacy she leaves. I will always treasure the encouragement she so generously shared.

“In ‘Charlotte’s Web,’ E.B. White wrote, ‘It is not often that someone comes along who is a true friend and a good writer.’ Mrs. Reed was both.’”

As well as being part of the English department, Reed also developed and enhanced the College Board running the AP Literature program. Another contribution Reed made to the English education of SHS is her creation of the college essay workshops. She even went so far as to write a book to help students write their essays in a professional manner.

Bush believes that her book is what has helped students strengthen their writing skills and impress college advisors.

Reed’s book that can be purchased off Amazon.

“She wrote a book about how kids should write college essays, and it’s the way we still teach students how to write them today,” said Bush. “I think one of the reasons Solon kids get into such great schools all the time is because of her technique where she liked them to include a lot of narration and not just answer the question but answer it beautifully.”

Reed, even after retirement, continued to spread her expertise in the English field, helping students enhance their literary skills.

“We have four wonderful professionals that help with college essays every year and really that program started with Mrs. Reed,” said Fitch. “When she retired she had a couple months she needed to finish, and she could have stopped with those two, but she came and helped with college essays and stayed with us for many years after that when she could have just been like ‘Okay I did my time’ because she really believed in helping kids with that next step.”

Reed provided many students with the resources and confidence that they need to move to the next chapter in their lives.

Reed’s former student and current Director of Security Jay Bender feels as though having Reed as a teacher helped him succeed in his preceding careers.

“I learned from her how to put together a good news story and how to ask questions,” said Bender. “When I went into Ohio University studying journalism, I felt absolutely prepared when I started. After I graduated, I went and worked in the newspaper business. I was an editor and reporter for four years, and I became a police officer. Being able to ask and write good questions served me very well throughout my career not just as a police officer but as a detective and those writing skills still serve me now.”

Throughout her time at Solon High School, Reed impacted her fellow teachers with her dedication to her teaching methods.

“I was a pretty young teacher, it was my fourth year teaching, and I feel like so much of my teaching was shaped by Mrs. Reed and her philosophies,” said Bush. “She really liked small classes, and back then English teachers only taught four classes because she thought we as teachers needed time to grade because students wrote essays every single week. That’s how commanding she was. She had started her own writing lab where it was much more formal and every time you didn’t do well in your essay, she would assign you to go there and you would have direct help.”

Reed succeeded not just as an English teacher but as an college placement consultant, an accomplished pianist and as an extremely proficient poet.

Reed also wrote freelance articles during her travels in Europe, and was published in the Cleveland Plain Dealer.

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    Jim ReedFeb 11, 2024 at 10:00 pm

    On behalf of Mrs. Reed’s family, thank you for publishing such a meaningful tribute. We have shared a link to this story with many of Mrs. Reed’s family and friends. And the response has been powerful – your article did an excellent job of celebrating her passion – teaching students how to write and mentoring new teachers to share the gift of writing with their students.