Forever in Our Hearts as a Friend, Colleague, and Champion for the AAC Community
Passionate. Joyful. Artistic. Fun. Caring. These are just some of the words that are consistently top of mind for Jane’s closest friends and colleagues as they reflect on her life and legacy. Words somehow don’t seem sufficient to describe this amazing woman who embodied an enthusiastic zest for life that was truly contagious, impacting everyone who knew her and challenging us all to make the world a better place.
“Jane’s energy and passion for AAC radiated in everything she did,” says Dave Hershberger, PRC-Saltillo’s CEO. “Her excitement around our ambassadors and our teams who support AAC communicators was unmatched in the field.”
Stemming back to her days attending Temple University in the early 1990s, Jane was a strong advocate for AAC users, volunteering her time as an AAC Mentor with the Augmentative Communication and Empowerment Supports (ACES) Summer Program through the Institute on Disabilities. This is where she met Kirk Behnke who was a fellow student and the coordinator for the ACES program at the time.
Today, Kirk is PRC-Saltillo’s Training & Implementation Services Manager and shares, “She was a pure energy force with whomever she came in contact — Especially at ACES. Her heart, passion, and drive gave individuals who could not communicate in traditional ways their empowerment. This program gave her a venue to be her honest and true self, as a teacher, mentor, leader, confidant, and friend.”
As a strong champion for AAC, her career led her to serve as an AAC Consultant first with Assistive Technology Works (ATW) beginning in the late 1990s and then with PRC from 2002 until 2010. She brought that same level of enthusiasm and passion to her role as the AAC Language Lab’s Training & Implementation Specialist starting in 2010 until her recent passing.
Sarah Wilds, VP, Product & Service Development at PRC-Saltillo remembers, “Jane envisioned the AAC Language Lab as a place where you didn’t need a master’s degree in speech-language pathology to get great AAC implementation ideas. She was committed to showing support teams how to be creative and have fun with AAC.”
Both nationally and in her home state of Arizona, Jane made immense contributions that will undoubtedly have a positive impact in the AAC field for decades to come. From participating in community-based AAC groups to developing and curating support materials for the AAC Language Lab, Jane gave countless presentations on implementation, serving as a leader in her field and a dependable go-to resource within the AAC community.
“She practiced what she preached and loved helping teachers, therapists, family members, and end users teach and use AAC,” shares Kara Bidstrup, Certified Product Owner and Stakeholder Manager for PRC-Saltillo. “She loved working with our ambassadors and bringing out the best in them. Jane made AAC friends and colleagues everywhere she went and her contributions will not be forgotten.”
One of Jane’s greatest loves was working with PRC-Saltillo’s ambassadors and other adult AAC users. She founded PRC-Saltillo’s Toastmasters Club on May 1 of this year, empowering members to connect virtually using technology to improve communication, presentation, and leadership skills. She remarked in Prescott, Arizona’s The Daily Courier, “Everybody deserves a voice. With Toastmasters they can become better speakers while building confidence and leadership skills.”
“I was excited when Jane asked me to join our Toastmasters chapter,” says Anthony Arnold. “This is a wonderful opportunity for ambassadors to improve their writing and public speaking skills. The Ambassador Program has a brighter tomorrow thanks to this investment.”
Ambassador and Toastmaster member Carson Covey adds, “I worked with a lot of speech therapists and speech therapist assistants in my life. Not even one of them had as much passion about AAC as Jane had.” Fellow ambassador and Toastmaster Mackenzie Sanders remarks, “She helped me get involved in being an ambassador and she was always so positive about my blogs! She got me involved in Toastmasters and I love it!”
As exuberant of a powerhouse as Jane was in AAC, she was just as passionate and engaging in her personal interactions, making fast friends with everyone she met. “Jane had a gift of making everyone she met feel like they were loved, important, valuable, and her best friend forever,” shares Jennifer Edge-Savage, AAC Consultant, Eastern Massachusetts for PRC-Saltillo. “She lived life fully and loudly and kindly and thoughtfully with that mischievous grin and enormous laugh.”
Sarah adds, “She could find common ground based on a piece of jewelry someone was wearing, a mention of a city where she knew someone, or a common interest (and she had LOTS). Because of this networking, she could connect people in completely different countries and from completely different industries.”
Jane embraced every day and every experience to the fullest and inspired others to do the same. One year during ATIA, Jane spearheaded a trip to the Ice Bar in Orlando, Florida where patrons are encouraged to wear fur coats and hug furry penguins, all while sipping drinks from glasses made of ice. Kara Bidstrup says, “of course she rented the fur coat to wear! On a different trip, I went with her to the gospel brunch at the Hard Rock Café. These were things I wouldn’t most likely do on my own, but they were so fun. She did this type of stuff all of the time and squeezed the most out of life.” Russell Cross, Language Systems Product Manager at PRC-Saltillo adds, “It was never simply a ‘day out’ with Jane — it was an adventure. And what adventures she has had!”
Carson reminisces about spending time with Jane at an ATIA conference. “I heard Jane say ‘Carson, come see me.’ This time I am thinking ‘what did I do wrong?’ So I followed Jane to a different room. Most of the ambassadors called her mom, so I said, ‘did I do something wrong mom?’ She said no and I looked down and saw five different standing robots. Jane said, ‘Carson, say walk on your device.’ None of the five robots worked. Jane promptly kicked every robot across the room with colorful language. I said that is partly why they did not work!”
Jane was also a highly creative soul and loved spending time creating ceramics and completing the firing process in her very own kiln. Jennifer recalls, “My favorite memory may be listening to her having a wonderfully animated conversation with my 3-year-old, aspiring artist daughter at ATIA about clay techniques, resulting in my daughter commissioning a very specific piece of art from Jane and her newly-acquired kiln. In true Jane fashion, a ceramic orange fish with one fin smaller than the other, who was NOT Nemo, arrived soon after!”
Jane was a true friend. She will be remembered forever for the smiles she shared so freely and for the way she, in Sarah’s words, “modeled a world where every single person had something to say — and who helped make that possible via the work she did with the AAC Language Lab and AAC ambassadors.”
While reflecting on Jane’s life and legacy, Kirk remarks, “Jane would want to be remembered as someone who took charge of her own life and made a difference. She would want to be remembered as a fellow colleague who supported the mission that Everyone Deserves a Voice.”
When asked how she thinks Jane would want to be remembered, Mackenzie replied, “Jane would probably want to be remembered for her passion for AAC and for the people who use it and the amazing way she made them feel! She was the most positive person I have known in life!”
Some people come into our lives and leave an indelible mark that will last a lifetime. “I can’t remember exactly when I first met Jane because it feels as if I’ve always known her,” Russell shares. “Some friends are like that. It’s as if they’ve always been there, even when the calendar tells you differently. I suppose that’s because the power of a friendship isn’t measured by the clock but by the heart. It’s timeless.”
Rest in peace, Jane. Thank you for teaching us all to live each moment to the fullest while looking to the future with hope, optimism, joy, and a touch of your trademark playfulness! #SeeJaneSmile