Every community has exceptional people; well-known individuals who are unconditionally invested in the places they live. They continually work throughout their lives to bring their communities to a higher standard and in doing so reflect a special sense of dedication. Their positive impact is forceful and undeniable.
Shelby County has historically boasted a multitude of these citizens; people who tirelessly advocate for their home and friends and neighbors. In ways big and small, they consistently make life better.
Jan Asher was one such person for Shelbyville.
Throughout her life, she exhibited a true appreciation for Shelbyville and its people. Jan was blessed with a genuine conscientiousness and a strong commitment to service. She had a perceptiveness that enabled her to identify needs and the initiative to seek resolutions.
Jan Asher succumbed to cancer in April at the age of 73.
Jan was, first and foremost, an educator in the truest sense. Every day presented her with a chance to teach someone; to help someone grow. She graduated from Purdue University in 1971 and soon after earned her master’s degree. She taught in the Shelbyville Central Schools system for 41 years, beginning in the physical education department at the high school in 1971. She would later have tenures at the old junior high and the middle school. She concluded her career with a 16-year stint at Loper Elementary.
“The long career has been satisfying because I got to know different generations of families,” said Asher in 2010. “You teach and live in a community and you really get to know the essence of it and the people in it. I got to watch students grow up and have kids and then got to know those kids. That was wonderful.”
Jan loved sports. She valued athletics, both as participant and spectator. She believed sports offered people tremendous potential for satisfaction and development. She participated in the limited options available for girls in the 1950s and 1960s. Later, she eagerly embraced the burgeoning opportunities for women that she discovered in college and as an adult.
“Sports was always a part of mom’s life for as long as I can remember,” said older son Scott Asher. “She played in the women’s softball leagues at Sunrise Park and later played a lot of mixed softball with dad. She also loved playing tennis and volleyball.”
Jan came to be regarded as one of Shelbyville’s best adult female athletes.
Jan and husband Mike married in 1970. It was evident from their beginning that they were a team. The two shared the same interests, values and an affinity for Shelbyville. Mike and Jan were defined by the fact that they worked together, whether it was raising their boys, looking after and following the grandkids or playing and officiating sports. They were connected.
The duo became a sought after and respected volleyball officiating team.
“They officiated high school volleyball all over,” said Scott. “That became a focus for them and they worked for some schools with really excellent volleyball teams.”
Jan and Mike became IHSAA tournament officials who worked the volleyball circuit for 25 years.
One of Jan’s most significant contributions was kindling an appreciation for sports in the girls she taught and coached.
“My brothers instilled in me a love for sports,” said Jan. “The scope of athletic possibilities dramatically increased as I was teaching and I wanted to pass that along to other girls.”
She embraced a variety of coaching opportunities with her characteristic enthusiasm and commitment. She was Shelbyville High School’s first volleyball coach. She also coached SHS track and gymnastics.
“I had no background in gymnastics,” said Jan. “I had to ‘learn on the fly’ so to speak.”
She coached volleyball and basketball at the junior high and later at the middle school.
“She had an excellent working knowledge of volleyball and basketball, so it was a good fit for her to coach those sports,” said Scott. “She had solid success.”
Jan’s earnest promotion of female sports did not in any way mitigate her advocacy for boys’ athletics. She had two sons and four of her six grandchildren were males. She relentlessly supported their athletic pursuits and was extremely proud of their achievements. Four of her children and grandchildren earned a collective seven Golden Bear high school major sports awards.
Teaching physical education held a deeper meaning for Jan.
“I always saw PE as a means of teaching girls about confidence and enhancing their self-esteem,” Jan related in 2015. “I wanted to use PE to teach them to appreciate accomplishments and as a means of encouraging them to set goals.”
She also became a certified Red Cross, CPR, Life-saving and Water Safety instructor. Her SHAPE Fitness Program at the middle school drew widespread praise. She was instrumental in the popular “Jump Rope for Heart” program and served as a volunteer for Shelby County Relay for Life.
In retirement, she became a passionate champion for animals and a diligent supporter of the local animal shelter.
Jan was first diagnosed with cancer in August of 2015. Undaunted, she worked through the difficult circumstances with her customary strength and courage. Treatment initially arrested disease progression and Jan was able to focus on family and other myriad interests as she optimistically moved forward enjoying more time for such following her May 2015 retirement.
A 2020 examination revealed cancer recurrence and an unfavorable prognosis. The disease progressed and Jan passed away on April 25 of this year with Mike and the rest of her family at her side.
Jan’s story reveals a lifetime of success: a dedicated husband and loving, accomplished children and grandchildren who truly appreciated who she was and the influence she had on their lives. Moreover, she left a resume of personal and professional accomplishments as well as a history of civic service and participation. Her family and friends can forever reflect on who she was and what she did with genuine pride and satisfaction.
Perhaps, her greatest attribute was her willingness to offer support and encouragement. Jan was quick to offer praise and inspire others to build on their accomplishments. She was fond of writing congratulatory notes and recognizing people on their latest achievements. She was forever intent on raising people’s spirits.
Sports pundits often say that great players and coaches have an intangible that somehow makes those around them better. They bring out the best in people and somehow lead others to a higher level. That was one of her most significant contributions. Jan made people feel capable.
Venerable people serve as constant examples. They are respected and provide us a sense of security and optimism. They motivate us to believe in our potential. Jan Asher was venerable. She made us feel good about who we were and where we were from.
Those of us who knew her were buoyed when we saw her working in the yard, walking at the high school, loading up the checkered van for a trip to the 500, coaching the girls, watching her grandchildren play, returning serve on the tennis court, attending a Shelbyville basketball game and innumerable other times we would see her.
Jan was a staple; a pillar. Our community which was so substantially enriched by her life is diminished beyond measure as a result of her passing.
“I want everyone to know how much I loved doing what I’ve done all these years,” Jan stated in a 2015 Shelbyville News feature, written on the occasion of her retirement. “I taught entire families. I feel like I know most of Shelbyville and I am so happy when I see people. I feel very, very lucky to have been involved in so many people’s lives.”
Shelbyville will miss Jan Asher.
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