Community members in Oak Park, and educators all over the world, are mourning a former Julian Middle School teacher and Golden Apple award winner who died in a fire at her home in Addison on Jan. 23.

Janet Barnstable, 76, was reportedly inside the house with Richard Sebring, 76, when it caught fire. As of Jan. 30, the local fire department was still investigating the cause. Neighbors identified Sebring, who also died in the fire, as Barnstable’s husband although a Daily Herald reporter said that he could find no legal documents confirming the marriage.

Barnstable had taught at Julian Middle School for 16 years until her retirement 2010, according to her LinkedIn profile.

For the last eight years, she had been program manager of the Global Virtual Classroom — a “free online educational program to promote communication, collaboration and understanding among students around the world,” according to its website.

Barnstable was such a presence in the global virtual classroom community that not long after news of her death surfaced, someone had created a Google document compiling reactions and tributes from “GVC teachers and friends” — from Australia to Greece to Oak Park.

Ann Mirtschin, an online instructor from Victoria, Australia, described Barnstable as “the cornerstone” and the “glue that often kept the 150 or so global members together.” Mirtschin added that the late teacher was a “pioneer in the innovative use of technology for global collaboration.”

Effie Kyrikakis, from Athens, Greece, said that Barnstable was a mentor to her and “a multitude of other educators worldwide.”

And Matthew Kuntz, a gifted education specialist and teacher with Oak Park Elementary Schools District 97, described Barnstable as a friend of over 25 years. Kuntz described Barnstable and Sebring as “two amazing people, so loving and caring, always there to lend a helping hand or a word or two of encouragement.”

Kuntz said that he had just visited their home a few weeks ago.

“We had lunch and we all talked for hours — laughing and sharing stories,” he stated. “When my children were little I would bring them over to Richard’s and Janet’s home to place in their expansive yard. The kids loved finding frogs and turtles in their pond and running around their acreage.”

On Friday, D97 officials released a statement on Barnstable’s death.

“We were shocked and saddened to learn about the passing of Janet Barnstable,” the statement reads. “Janet was a passionate and dedicated educator who had a profoundly positive and lasting impact on our students, our schools and our community. Our thoughts are with her loved ones during this difficult time.”

So far, funeral arrangements are still pending. 

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