Riverside Brookfield’s grandma, Mary Jahnke


Photo courtesy of Mary Jahnke

Jahnke posing with the RBHS bulldog mascot at one of the football games.

Mia Donnamario, Editor

From a young age, life hasn’t always been easy for Mary Jahnke. When she was a young girl, she lost her mother and she had never met her father, but the struggle she went through as a child has shaped her into who she is today. She has always made sure her life has been lived to the fullest by doing what she loves every day. 

“I had a really rough childhood. My mother died when I was 5 years old, I never knew my father. I was adopted by wonderful people who took me into their lives and [kind of] spoiled me,” said Jahnke.

Jahnke was lucky enough to be adopted by a wonderful couple who had always been in her life as a young girl. 

“It was very hard losing my mom. The couple that adopted me lived a couple houses away from where my mother lived so they were always in my life. I knew them from the time I was little and they were the ones I would go to when times got rough,” Jahnke said. 

She was graced with the fact that even though she was adopted, she was still able to stay in contact with her biological family and grow close to them which taught her a very valuable lesson in life that she still shares to this day. 

“They allowed me to continue to see my [biological] family and be able to enjoy all of their friendships. And if I can share this with students, which I do, I want them to know they can overcome things if you are strong and positive,” Jahnke said. 

Jahnke has worked at RB for a total of 24 years. For 16 years, Jahnke worked as a paraprofessional with the Special Education department and for the last 8 years she has been working as a substitute throughout the building. 

Jahnke decided at a young age that she was interested in spending time in school. 

“From third grade I wanted to be a teacher. I loved directing and seeing kids be successful at what they did. I decided I wanted to be surrounded by students so I could share with them how easy it is to overcome difficulties in their life if you have a positive attitude,” Jahnke said.

RB has changed Jahnke’s life in a positive way over the last 24 years. She spends a majority of her time here due to the relationships she has formed with faculty and students.  

“I love RB because I love being accepted and I love the response from the kids when I am with them. I am glad I did what I did [go into education] and I am glad that I still like it today,” Jahnke said.

In 2016, Jahnke officially retired as a teacher. She realized that she was too involved in different activities at RB that she still wanted to come back here no matter what. She continues to work as a substitute teacher and attend different events such as sports games.

“[I officially retired] in 2016. I can’t stay away, I love it so much here. I like to be able to support the students and I really enjoy them,” Jahnke said. 

Jahnke has made very close relationships especially with a few different teachers including science teachers, Lori Sullivan and Christy Hughes, and Special Education teacher, Dawn Soprych. 

Most of Jahnke’s time is spent in either Hughes’ room or Sullivan’s room. She has grown especially close with Hughes and her family. Hughes has been working with Jahnke for the past 16 years. 

“Since my mom died she’s been like a grandparent to my children and she has kind of adopted them as her own grandchildren and she tries to calm me down everyday. She loves all of the students unconditionally and she tries to find the good in every single kid,” said Hughes.  

Jahnke can always put a smile on students’ faces no matter what. It’s easy to say that she is one of everyone’s favorite teachers in the building. 

“She is always excited to see the students and she can always find something positive and engaging. She can get almost any kid in this building to at least cooperate with her,” said Sullivan. “Even though I care about every kid too, she has a much more genuine, easy way to demonstrate that.”

Soprych has been working alongside Jahnke since the beginning. The two have worked together in the classroom and outside the classroom in Best Buddies. Soprych has learned different valuable lessons throughout their time together. 

“Mary can turn just about anything into a song. I love watching her interact with Rb students as she sings and dances her way through the hallways. There’s so many good memories,” said Soprych. 

Outside of RB, when Jahnke isn’t spending time with the students she is spending time with her granddaughters. She spends as much time as she possibly can with them doing activities such as pottery, drawing, and dancing.

Although Jahnke spends most of her time here, she’s been thinking about other things that she could be working on while also spending time subbing. 

“There’s a special education program near my home where I could volunteer, and I could volunteer at a hospital, food pantries. I really can’t leave RB though. I love it here far too much,” said Jahnke.