School 25


Janet E. Birch

July 23, 1946 ~ December 1, 2018 (age 72)

Janet Elston Birch, age 72, passed away on December 1, 2018, in South Bend, Indiana. She was born in New Kensington, PA, on July 23, 1946, to William and Mary (Seman) Elston, both of whom preceded her in death; she never stopped missing them. Janet is survived by her sisters, Linda (Martin) Wolfson, Gwendolyn Allan, and Cindy (Tim) Gray, as well as her brothers, Rodney (Judy) Elston and Timothy Elston.

On July 27, 1974, Janet married the love of her life, Donald Birch, in Heinz Chapel, Pittsburgh, PA. In death as in life, they are together; he preceded her in death by only a few weeks before she succumbed to multiple health issues and followed him. Together Janet and Donald had two children, Benjamin Birch and Jessica Birch, as well as Donald’s three children from his first marriage.

After graduating from New Kensington High School, Janet received her bachelor’s degree in education from Carlow College (Pittsbugh, PA) and then her master’s degree in education from the University of Pittsburgh. From her first job as an assistant in the local library to her last job as principal of Elsie Rogers Elementary School, Janet was committed to education and to children. Between those jobs, she taught and then led staff development in Pittsburgh Public Schools; directed student teachers at Indiana University South Bend; designed and directed innumerable workshops for and with parents and teachers; and was principal of Northpoint Elementary School.

Janet touched thousands of lives over the course of her teaching and administrative positions. The children she taught and those she was principal for gave her so many coloring book pages, drawings, and notes that she had to rotate through them to have enough room on her office doors and the walls of her office to put up new ones, but she never threw away any of them. Years—sometimes decades—later, in grocery stores, malls, movie theaters, and everywhere else, people called out her name. All of them started with, “Mrs. Birch, you might not remember me,” and she always did, because they were all “her kids,” whether she was their teacher, their principal, or their student teaching coordinator.

Her influence reaches far beyond those she directly taught. The teachers she taught have gone on to teach others, and often called her years later to ask for advice or feedback. The parents of children in her schools called out her name in grocery stores as often as their children did. Janet was always ready with a helping hand or word for neighbors, her children’s friends, and her family. Without hesitation, she generously gave her time whenever she was asked—she proofread résumés, wrote recommendation letters, and conducted practice interviews for colleagues, former students, and her children’s friends. Janet was a girl from the Aluminum City Terrace who was braver and stronger than she ever recognized, and she changed the world.

During her entire life, she always gave all that she could give to all of us, literally and figuratively. Christmas was her favorite holiday. Through the year, she noted down what people wanted, often buying presents months ahead of time to be sure that she had the perfect gifts for everyone. Janet loved spending time with her family. Even in her last months, as her health declined, she loved seeing pictures of and talking to her nieces, nephews, and grandchildren’s children—she had pictures of them and drawings they made in her room, and she told all of the nursing staff who they were. She cried at weddings, loved mashed potatoes, drank Earl Grey tea, and always turned the volume up for Whitney, Al, and Barry.

We miss her, we are grateful to have had her in our lives, and she will live on forever in our hearts, as well as in the hearts and minds of everyone she influenced through the course of her life. Our solace is knowing that she and Donald are together again, as they were for almost every day of their 44 years of marriage, even at the end. Now, somewhere, they are dancing to their song, as they did every time it played, no matter what else was happening.

A memorial service for Janet will be held at 2:00pm on Sunday, December 16, 2018 at Palmer Funeral Home—Hickey Chapel, 17131 Cleveland Road, South Bend. Friends may visit with the family from 12:00-2:00pm on Sunday at the funeral home prior to the service.

In lieu of flowers, expressions of sympathy in memory of Janet may be donated to the Youth Service Bureau of St. Joseph County, 2222 Lincolnway West, South Bend, IN 46628.

Online condolences may be offered to the family at

Donations may be made to:

Youth Service Bureau of St. Joseph County
2222 Lincolnway West, South Bend IN 46628

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