This substitute teacher left an impression

Published 10:04 am Thursday, September 26, 2013

Column: A Happy Medium, by Erin Murtaugh

Writing this week’s column makes my heart heavy. I know that one of my weekly readers won’t be reading it. So this column is for Orrie Jirele, one of the most amazing people I have ever met.

Jirele passed away Saturday evening. He would remind me that he read every single thing that has ever been in the paper of mine. I will miss that reminder so much.

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Jirele will have a lasting impact on students and staff of Albert Lea High School, along with community members from the Albert Lea and Austin area. I knew Jirele from many different things, so if I was connected to him through more than one thing, I can only imagine how many people’s lives have been touched by him.

Jirele was an amazing substitute teacher. Most substitutes either won’t grasp what the teacher has asked or will be too strict or harsh on the students. Jirele always made sure his students stayed on task, but also made sure they had a good time.

I don’t remember a time when Jirele didn’t have a life lesson to teach about aside from the lesson he was supposed to be teaching for class. Every student he came in contact with, he would make a personal connection. You could count on him to know your name and any activities you’re involved in. He was kind to everyone he worked with and never lost his temper. I also was fond of his teaching outfit, which consisted of a blazer, dress pants, a T-shirt and his signature briefcase.

Jirele was a phenomenal violinist. One of the classes Jirele frequently substituted for was orchestra. I am a violin player and have been since third grade, so Jirele and I made the instant connection over the instrument. We played together a time or two at church.

He also talked me into joining the community orchestra, which I ended up quitting after one rehearsal, but, hey, I tried. Jirele was also always checking that I was practicing.

My junior year, I took a break from violin because of scheduling issues. He always made sure I was keeping up with playing, though. When I informed him this summer that I was rejoining orchestra for my senior year, he was so ecstatic. Because of the enthusiasm and dedication Jirele taught me through his love for violin, I promise I will never stop playing violin.

Jirele was an inspiring mentor and coach. I never had Jirele for a coach, but many have shared stories about his coaching basketball.

He also had a strong love for tennis and would come to meets and sometime jump in for a match or two. He had advice for everyone and was always willing to listen, regardless of what was troubling you at the time.

The most recent place I had gotten to know Jirele, was at ShopKo. I worked. He was a customer. When he would come in to shop, he would always make a point to say hello and ask how I was doing.

A few months ago, I got to work and noticed someone had left their pen on the counter. It was a nice silver pen from a school on an Indian reservation, with the inscription, “Mr. Orrie Jirele.” I knew I had to return the pen to him.

I waited patiently to see him come into the store again and even debated taking the pen with me and personally delivering it. About two weeks ago, Jirele came into ShopKo, and I couldn’t help but get overly excited because I could finally get him his pen back. He too, was excited to get his pen back. I could tell the pen was special to him. Now, even more than ever, I am so glad I could get that pen back to him and see his enthusiasm.

I will never forget him, his stories and his love for everything he did. Mr. Jirele touched so many lives and will forever leave an impact on this community. Cherish the time you have with those who make a difference in your life, because our time here is limited. Mr. Jirele, I know you are and will be watching over all of us, the musicians, the athletes, the students and everyone else.


Albert Lea resident Erin Murtaugh is a senior at Albert Lea High School.