ZEPHYRHILLS — She changed January to Janubeary, and the children loved her for it.
The kindergarteners skipped into June Reed's room at Woodland Elementary School, clutching their favorite stuffed bears. And when the day was done, the bears sat at the desks.
"June took pictures of the bears like they were doing work,'' said her husband, Alan Reed, "like they were alive at night. She sparked the kids' imagination.''
Before Thanksgiving, Mrs. Reed pitched tepees in her room and the children sat inside them and ate turkey dinners.
"She used to drive me crazy staying up all night doing projects,'' her husband said. "She was a wonderfully creative teacher.''
That spirit and talent twice earned her Teacher of the Year honors at the school where she began her career in 1986 and retired last year. She strayed briefly to Stewart Middle School, but quickly realized that she was first and foremost a kindergarten teacher. She loved the little ones. They loved her like a mother.
On Monday, many of them — now grown, some with kids of their own — crowded into Trinity Church in Wesley Chapel to say goodbye to their first teacher. Mrs. Reed, seemingly healthy just a few months ago and planning a trip across the world, died on Jan. 27 of cancer. She was 61.
The preacher who conducted the service, Randall Belcher, was principal at Woodland Elementary when Mrs. Reed started her teaching career. He used words like "extraordinary'' and "special'' as he described the quiet woman loved by all her fellow teachers. "She was the best of the best,'' said Belcher, who left Woodland in 2002 and retired five years ago.
In some circles of this close-knit community, Mrs. Reed was best known as "Coach's Wife.'' Alan Reed recently retired after decades of coaching teams at Zephyrhills High and Stewart Middle, where he also taught physical education.
They met on a blind date as sophomores in high school in Pennsylvania and dated through graduation in 1967. Alan went into the military, stationed at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa. When he got out, he married June and accepted a basketball scholarship at Florida Southern College in Lakeland. Soon they had a son, Stephen, and Alan took a teaching job in Zephyrhills in 1975.
June worked full time as a clerk at the county courthouse, but yearned to be a schoolteacher. She took classes at Pasco-Hernando Community College and the University of South Florida and graduated with honors in 1986. She didn't stop there, earning a master's in 2002 and a coveted national board certification in elementary education.
Mrs. Reed loved to travel, while her husband would just as soon stay in Zephyrhills. So every school break, she planned a trip with fellow teacher and good friend Sandy Housefield. They explored four continents, including a safari in Africa and tours of Antarctica and Ecuador. In October, Mrs. Reed's back started hurting. She went to a chiropractor, but the pain kept getting worse. Still, she kept her promise to join her friend for a 10-day cruise on the Nile in Egypt.
"I knew she was hurting,'' Mrs. Housefield said, "but she never once complained.''
They started making plans for the next adventure — New Zealand.
But when she got home, Mrs. Reed went to a doctor. Tests revealed the back pain was caused by tumors that had originated in her lungs and spread to her bones and brain. Friends said she had never smoked and had always been healthy. She died peacefully at home with her husband and son nearby.
Pastor Belcher recalled how Woodland had once received a $300 grant from the local water management district to create a garden that wouldn't need much irrigation. Mrs. Reed transformed an ugly spot on campus into a beautiful butterfly garden. Over the years, plaques honored people from the school who had died.
On Thursday, Belcher called the school's current principal, Kim Poe. The garden, he said, will now honor Mrs. Reed.