A Life Remembered | SJ-O grad, custodian, bus driver recalled for love of alma mater

A Life Remembered | SJ-O grad, custodian, bus driver recalled for love of alma mater

ST. JOSEPH — Jeff Reese loved his alma mater so much, he continued to drive a St. Joseph-Ogden school bus after retiring from his custodian gig there.

"He was a good man with a huge heart for kids, cared deeply about St. Joseph-Ogden High School and was very proud to call St. Joe his home," Superintendent Brian Brooks said.

The SJ-O community is mourning the death of Mr. Reese, a proud graduate who went on to spend 30 years as a custodian and bus driver at the school.

Mr. Reese, who died last week at age 69, will be remembered at a visitation from 4 to 8 p.m. today at Freese Funeral Home in his hometown and a funeral service at 11 a.m. Wednesday at St. Joseph Church of Christ.

When you think of SJ-O, you think of the Reeses, said the school's former athletic director, Brady Smith.

Wife Carla was a ticket taker at Spartans sporting events. Jeff drove the bus.

They seemed to be at every game, even ones they weren't working.

"It is hard to think of Jeff without Carla," Smith said, "and vice versa."

SJ-O teacher Jeff Kieffer remembers Mr. Reese as one of the few steady — and always cheery — presences during his 20 years at the high school.

During his first few years at SJ-O, Kieffer would often write quirky thoughts of the day on the side board in his classroom.

He fell out of the practice — and Mr. Reese noticed.

"For a few years after, he would smile and tell me I should consider bringing them back," Kieffer said. "He always enjoyed reading them.

"Got a feeling I will be putting a few of those 'thoughts of the day' up once more when classes resume this fall. Jeff was a good man. Our community, staff and our students were made better by his presence and generosity of spirit."

One of Mr. Reese's passions was officiating high school sports. He was an IHSA official in football, basketball and softball.

Former SJ-O softball star Tammy Suits Ingram remembers seeing Mr. Reese working in the school in the morning, then calling her games in the afternoon.

"He knew every kid at the school, and his smile never left his face," she said. "He is truly one of a kind, a genuinely amazing guy who would do anything for anyone. He will be so missed."

Villa Grove Athletic Director Noreen Acton watched Mr. Reese in action many times the past two decades.

When he was working a game one of your teams was playing, she said, fans wouldn't have reason to yell at the officials. He was experienced, fair and reliable, "just a genuinely nice man who was always pleasant to talk to on the phone or at a ball game," Acton said.

Added Smith: "You could tell he took what he was doing seriously, and he was dependable."

The same could be expected when Mr. Reese was behind the wheel of the bus taking a Spartans team to a game on the road, Smith said.

You always knew you were in good hands.

"You always want people to be invested," he said. "And he was definitely that."

Nora Maberry-Daniels is editor of The Leader, a News-Gazette Media community newspaper. For more, visit leaderlandnews.com.

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