Long-time volunteer honored for dedication to kids

Owen OrndorffOwen Orndorff choked up trying to talk about the memory of his wife. So did Juno Van Ocker, her best friend. In fact, anyone who knew Janet Orndorff got emotional when they talked about her dedication to the children of Boise.

Orndorff died one year ago from breast cancer. Her life was filled with teaching, raising a family and volunteering countless hours for numerous projects that benefited children. (Click here to read more about her life.)

On Wednesday, some of Boise’s most prestigious education leaders remembered Orndorff for her volunteer work at the Bown House, an historic home that will forever display her name.

Orndorff dedication
This plaque now resides in the Bown House.

“She fell in love with this home, absolutely loved it,” Owen Orndoff said of his wife. “She wanted to use it as a teaching tool.”

And she did.

Thanks to her work, the historic house on ParkCenter Boulevard was restored and turned into a place where Boise fourth-graders can go on a field trip to learn about life in the 1800s.

A short ceremony and tour was held Wednesday at the Bown House to dedicate a room to Janet Orndorff, a teacher by training who spent more than two decades serving on the Boise School Board.

Attending were A.J. Balukoff, Democratic candidate for governor and president of the Boise School Board; Stan Olson, former candidate for state schools superintendent and former Boise schools superintendent; and current Boise Superintendent Don Coberly.

“She was my mentor,” Balukoff said. “She taught me what being a school board member is all about.”

Juno Van Ocker
Juno Van Ocker and A.J. Balukoff

The Boise School Board, Boise Schools Education Foundation and the Assistance League of Boise sponsored the dedication. Proceeds will be used to spruce up the Bown House.

“It occurred to me that there was so much more than teaching history at the Bown House for Janet,” Balukoff remembered. “She taught children about who they are and where they come from.”

Owen Orndorff added: “She just loved kids.”

Janet Orndorff was first elected to the school board in 1990 and she served on the board until her death in 2013. She was an active volunteer in education — she coordinated campaigns for bonds and levies, lobbied and testified before the Legislature on behalf of public education and advocated for the preservation and renovation of Boise High School. She also spent many days traveling the country and Idaho for the “Light House Project,” a in-depth training program for trustees.

She was devoted to the Assistance League of Boise, volunteering there for 33 years. She helped invent the league’s successful thrift shop, which is run by volunteers and produces money that purchases new school clothes and supplies for Boise’s low-income children.

But she was remembered Wednesday for saving the Bown House, an historic 1879 home on school district property. The district wanted to tear down the home to build another school when she stepped in to protect it. She was one of the founding board members of the Bown House Heritage Program and was instrumental in restoring the home and creating an innovative heritage education program for field trips and community visits. (Click here to read more about the Bown House and Joseph Bown, who owned the home after moving west to find gold.)

Each year, more than 2,000 fourth-graders walk through a two-hour tour and engage in hands-on activities reflecting the times. They study in an old schoolroom, churn butter, quilt a square, dress up in period clothing  and play some of the games pioneer children enjoyed.

Free public tours are held the first Saturday of each month from 1 to 4 p.m.

Bown kids

Jennifer Swindell

Jennifer Swindell

Managing editor and CEO Jennifer Swindell founded Idaho Education News in 2013. She has led the online news platform as it has grown in readership and engagement every year, reaching over two million pageviews a year. Jennifer has more than 35 years of experience in Idaho journalism. She also has served as a public information officer for Idaho schools and as a communication director at Boise State University. She can be reached at [email protected].

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