John Streetz: Teacher, Mentor, and Friend

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Friends,

I am deeply sorry to share the news that John Streetz, former George School teacher, coach, and a most beloved and devoted friend of the community, passed away on Saturday, March 18, 2017 in Oakland, CA.

George School’s first African-American teacher, John was hired in 1950 by Head of School Dick McFeely to teach Chemistry. Over the next sixteen years, John also coached track and cross-country and lived in Orton Dormitory with his family. He had a profound and lasting effect on his students, his colleagues, and the school; he was a legend in his own time.

In addition to his legacy within each of us who knew him, John’s presence will continue to be felt on campus every day. In 2009, several of John’s former students funded the construction of a new faculty home on campus, Streetz House. John and his late wife Jackie were the class sponsors for the Class of 1961 which, on the occasion of their 50th reunion, presented George School with a wonderful gift to the endowment, The John and Jackie Streetz Scholarship Fund. These generous gifts are fitting tributes to John that will support and nurture George School students and faculty for years to come.

I want to share with you an excerpt from the email sent earlier this week by Dick Brown to his 1961 classmates:

We have lost an exceptional person, a man who inspired us, comforted us, and often made us laugh. John was the heart and soul of our class inspiring us with his own accomplishments, challenging us with his intelligence, delighting us with his humor, and always taking pride in our accomplishments. We encourage all classmates to attend the memorial service when it is scheduled. 

With apologies to Eleanor Hoyle:  Quos valde amas numquam vere moriuntur … those who we love deeply never truly die.

As of this writing, there is not yet a date for a memorial service, but we will post new information on this page as it becomes available.

Please join me in holding John’s daughter Pamela ’70 and their family in the Light. I hope that you will share your remembrances and words of comfort here—in this community space dedicated to John Streetz and his remarkable life.

Karen Hallowell

April 20, 2017 editors note:  News of the death of John Streetz in March has left many in the extended George School family mourning the loss of our beloved teacher, coach, colleague, and friend. We will gather to honor John’s memory and celebrate his life at George School on Sunday, May 21, 2017 at 1:00 p.m. in the meetinghouse. All are welcome.

17 Comments

Filed under Faculty, Faculty and Staff, Musings from Faculty

17 responses to “John Streetz: Teacher, Mentor, and Friend

  1. Bob Hidell

    John Streetz was a GIANT in mind and spirit – and also pretty tall! John and I had a friendship of 61 years that was deep, abiding, faithful, fun and serious. We were student/teacher, then he was headmaster and I teacher at Oakwood School and then simply friends. I was with him at the hospital on his last day. I want to assure each of you that he was surrounded by dear friends who sang to him, told him they loved him and read poetry to him and he heard the laughter and the stories. He died at peace with the world and knowing he was deeply loved. Bob Hidell “59”

  2. Burt Ross

    My wife Joan and I visited John just 10 days before his passing. He hosted us in his Oakland home of 49 years. He was fully alert and stood tall and erect. I can still not get over the shock when I heard from Pamela that John had taken gravely ill. John was looking forward to returning to George School for Alumni Day this coming May. He loved George School and as our class sponsor had a special feeling for the Class of 1961. Those many of us who were touched by John over the years might consider donating in his memory to the John & Jackie Streetz Scholarship Fund. I know how much helping disadvantaged children meant to him. My condolences go out to Pamela and the rest of us who loved him so much. Burt Ross, Class of ’61

  3. Robert H Turner

    John Streetz. Here was a man of probity, acuity, and levity.Though an anchor of what mattered, at George School, he affected me most closely as administrator at the California College of the Arts in Oakland. He knew what was going on and he always went straight to the point, with a mind of clarity and seriousness, while sharing that heart that, without letting us off the hook, let us live forward well. When I met him again just two years ago under the sun and trees of George School, his memory for detail and connection struck me again. It was a quiet joy to know him.
    Rob Turner ’65

  4. I think most people had one teacher who was breakthrough teacher for them. Mr. Streetz was that teacher for me. NS Chemistry was the hardest course that I took in 22 years of school. When we were taking our final I looked up at the front of the classroom and he was sitting there with that smirk that he had, very satisfied he was. I realized then, that he didn’t care, really how much chemistry we had learned or would retain, but instead that we had learned to think under pressure and that probably no class in the future would be able to terrify us again. Watching us work through that multi-hour final exam, he knew he had succeeded in that. I will always be grateful. Thank you Mr. Streetz.

  5. Kim Brown

    I sat at his table in the dining room. He constantly challenged us with questions– “Why are manhole covers round”…. and the like. Piqued my curiosity ! I ALWAYS enjoyed his company, but my enthusiasm never carried over to Chemistry. What a great role model. Was so sorry when he left during my senior (?) year for New York (?). Was very motivational !! A great loss. Fond memories.

  6. Dave Johnson

    John Streetz was a true friend. As Mitch Albom writes
    in Tuesdays With Morrie, “Death ends a life, not a
    relationship.” So many great memories. This man
    will be missed.

  7. Clem Hoffman

    I first met John “JDS” Streetz when I was 6 years old at the Newtown Friends Meeting. He was then and has remained larger than life. When I started G.S. I signed right up for his chemistry class. I just loved it. Little did I know that this was my first pre-med class! John made science very enjoyable, which requires a gift for teaching, which he certainly had. John was also coached our chess team for the three years I was at G.S. John always gently pushed us toward excellence. John and I shared a passion for fishing. I remember John would occasionally go down to the Neshaminy Creek after classs and coax some nice bass and trout out of his favorite holes. When we both lived in the Bay Area of San Francisco, John, brother Bruce and I used to go up fishing in Lake Barryessa. We had many a fine time. Returning home, we might stop at John’s wonderful fish fry restaurant in Oakland for dinner. John and Jackie visited my wife, Barbara, and me several times in the San Diego area. We always seemed to pick right up where we left off. The last time I saw John was at his home in Oakland in 2014. He was still recovering from a severe live-threatening ruptured abdominal aneurysm. His daughter, Pamela, had moved in for a while to help out. John never missed a beat. He was just as warm, gracious and charming as ever, as if nothing had happened. I will always remember the big smile and hug that we got when we left. I am holding tight to all of these wonderful memories. John, go with God and I hope to see you again!

  8. Art Cohen

    John Streetz was a gifted teacher and wise human being, who was clearly in love with his chosen subject matter of Chemistry. During the course I took under him in 1952-53, he made what could have been a dry subject come alive for all of us in the class. The Periodic Table of Elements formed the backbone for all of the discussion to follow about protons, neutrons, and electrons – and the various properties, groupings, and compounds of each of the elements. Chemistry was experiencing a golden age in the early 1950’s, and I left high school with a deep interest in the subject, largely as a result of the teachings of John Streetz. He also was a wonderful cross country team coach, very tall, with a runner’s slim build, who was emphatic about the need for everyone to finish the run, no matter how slowly they might do so – certainly, that was a life lesson. Finally, he endeared himself to a number of us by his human qualities – as an example, we all got a kick out of the open secret of him going behind the powerhouse from time to time to have a smoke with other teachers.

    Art Cohen – Class of ’54

  9. Richard Priebe

    John Streetz was at the top of the best teachers I have ever had at any level of my education. I must also say I was not aware of how good and kind he was when I had him in chemistry my sophomore year at GS as I and all in the class were so intimated by his presence. And an incredible presence he was–and has continued to be throughout my life. In my teaching and in life I have continued to use two lessons he taught us the first day of that chemistry class in 1957. Holding up the Handbook of Chemistry and Physics he told us that there were essentially two things we needed to be aware of–things we just needed to learn and things we needed to know where we could find the information that we didn’t need to learn. And in that class that thick handbook would be our basic resource text of facts. Then he gave a most intimidating and useful assignment–we were to write an essay on the distinction between precision and accuracy. We sweated that one out, but I must say I would be hard pressed to find an assignment I was ever given in which there were so many life lessons. John Streetz was a great and kind individual–and indeed still a commanding presence in his absence.

    Richard Priebe–class of ’60

  10. Alison Smith Claus

    My first experience with Chemistry was my 1953-54 NS Chemistry class with John Streetz As the only girl in the class with 22 boys I was worried that somehow that might make a difference but it didn’t. I was always just one of the members of the class. I loved the class and am sure that his influence was one of the largest pieces of my decision to major in Chemistry in college. I already loved the subject.
    I was amazed at the 50th reunion of the class of ’55 to have him not only remember me but quote some activities from the class that I no longer remembered. He will remain fondly in my memory as one of the great teachers I had at GS.
    My sympathies go out to his daughter over her loss.

  11. Martin Kistin

    I came to George School from West Virginia as a sophomore in 1962 and was told that I needed to choose an academic advisor. In my first month, I had had some difficulty adjusting to the GS environment and rules. John Streetz informed me that I had no choice of advisors. He was going to be my advisor for the next three years. He recognized how much I needed to catch up both socially and academically. He took me into his home and family He made sure that I knew how to act, how to study and how to set goals and reach them. It was often tough love, and it was exactly what I needed. It took me a long time to appreciate how much his mentoring meant to me. I have been fortunate to have met with him several times over the years to express my gratitude. He was not only the most influential teacher I have had. He was the most influential person in my life at a time when I desperately needed guidance and support. He will be missed.

    Marty Kistin GS 1965

  12. Nancy Starmer

    John Streetz was one of the most intellectually curious, generous, loyal people I’ve ever known, a true pioneer at George School and one of its most steadfast friends. Though I was a latecomer in John’s orbit, meeting him for the first time only in 2000, he quickly became one of my most steadfast friends as well, a gift for which I am enormously grateful. One had only to watch the many graduates who returned to George School year after year on Alumni Day specifically to see John, to hear the stories of his “tough love” and demands for scholarship as a classroom teacher, to experience the way that John made everyone he knew feel that s/he had something unique and special to contribute to the world, or to encounter the breadth of his intellect and depth of his joy in life to know why his orbit of friends was so large. George Fox asked Friends to “Be patterns, be examples in all countries, places, islands, nations wherever you come; that your carriage and life may preach among all sorts of people, and to them; then you will come to walk cheerfully over the world, answering that of God in everyone; whereby in them you may be a blessing, and make the witness of God in them to bless you.” I think he was envisioning John Streetz.

    Nancy Starmer
    Head of School 2000-2016

  13. Keith Brinton

    It was a day in the Fall of 1959. Something was going on at GS on that day: Lunch tables had been set up in the hall outside the dining room. I can’t remember why that was. But I found myself seated at Mr. Streetz’s table out there for the very first time. He immediately began asking me about my year as the first American exchange student in Guebwiller, France. I was a timid guy, but some devil must have got into me that day, because I informed him that, among other things, I had studied chemistry in France! (I had not.)

    He was instantly skeptical, knowing me to be strictly a language arts student. I thought my lie was pretty water-tight because he had no way of going to France to check out my record!

    But a smile appeared on his face as he said, “I doubt that, Brinton!” Confidently I reasserted the claim: “Really, I did!”

    So he told me he could ask me one question, and my answer would definitely tell him whether I had indeed studied chemistry in France. I told myself I’d made it through the rigors of a French scholastic year, and was a good student, so I figured I could wing it with the best of them.

    He then demanded: “Explain the acid-base balance.”

    I wondered momentarily whether I actually could wing it on that topic—acid-base, hmm…—but nothing at all came to mind. So I told him that the study of chemistry in France actually paid very little attention to that topic, and I had correspondingly little to say about it.

    His smile grew even broader as he said, “Okay, Brinton, now I know you never studied chemistry in France! There’s no way acid-base could not feature importantly in French chemistry.” And thus my lie was outed!

    I’ve always cherished that little episode. I wrote to Mr. Streetz about it last year, and I wish I’d had more contact with him back when it was possible.

    Keith Brinton ’60

  14. Wendy Coleman Goble

    Dr. Streetz, whom I never had in a class, stands out in my mind. He did not pretend. He and his wife were endlessly kind to a misfit, gracious, charming, humorous, and giving. And they were so very much themselves–meeting them again at our 25th reunion, I found they remembered me, had personal things to say to me, and revived a real relationship. We laughed together.

    Wendy Coleman Goble ’57

  15. Bruce Hoffman

    These are some highly respectful recollections of John, who was my Chemistry teacher and the Dean of Boys, during my years as a day student at the George School (1962-1966).

    As a person influencing social change at George School, he was very articulate and careful, with a disciplined, humble manner that let him stay outside of conflicts and educate the community for the reasonable inclusion of all.

    I reunited with John, while an undergraduate at Cal-Berkeley, as he continued on as our family friend. John, Jackie and Pamela moved to California at about the same time as me, my parents, and brother and sister. He was the headmaster at the Athenian School, in Danville, CA , followed by holding a high administrative post at the Oakland College of Arts and Crafts. I was in the S.F. Bay Area for seven years, during which time I saw John at work, at home and on jaunts to fish and travel California.

    I last saw him a few years ago, in Oakland, as he recuperated from a serious medical condition, with Pamela’s strong help.

    John was a person of fine wisdom, balance, and good humor. He was a storyteller with poise and the use of subtle clues, usually his story’s ending turned on a subject’s character and deeds. Some of these were real stories from Bucks County. John’s lineage was old from places near Philadelphia and the Delaware River tidewaters.

    He was a Quaker in more ways than we might guess. May he Rest in Peace.

    Bruce Hoffman ’66

  16. Pingback: John Streetz Memorial Service - George School

  17. Karen Garrison

    When I think about John, I think of his compelling presence, his facile mind and insatiable curiosity (“I deserve a pat on the back; I just listened to 28 lectures on the brain”), his generosity, his chuckle, his sense of outrage at the world’s indignities. But what stands out most is his enormous heart. Unusually for a man of his generation, he was comfortable expressing affection. Over the years, he became a kind of ambassador of loving. I never saw him happier than lately when Pamela, Victoria and Alice were visiting; the mutual caring, enjoyment and respect made you want to move in.
    I might have missed the pleasure of getting to know him if I hadn’t gotten caught, with my friends Ann and Nomi, sneaking out of the dorm and raising hell in the middle of the night, waking John and his family. The task of disciplining us fell to him, as dean. He assured us that job gave him no joy, but our behavior left him little choice. The demerits he handed out barred us from leaving campus, from representing GS in sports events and from being prefects the next year. If you must break the rules, he deadpanned, please don’t get caught. Useful life lesson…
    That event bound us together. Even as he meted out our punishment, he made it clear that he cared about us and expected great things from us. And he never stopped checking up on us. The following year, when he started a new job in Poughkeepsie, he invited us to come up for a weekend with his family. In recent years Ann, Nomi and I reunited with John at his Oakland home in various combinations; he was full of admiration and delighted that we’d made it through our careers without major backsliding—or at least without getting caught!
    Being an active Friend was integral to John’s understanding of himself. He recently invited me to join him at Monthly Meeting in Berkeley. After the service, he bought me a copy of “Faith and Practice, a Guide to Quaker Discipline,” handing it over with a big grin. The subtitle made me wonder, briefly, if he thought I needed another behavior adjustment. But then I started reading, and found the book to be all about love, community, harmony with nature. Now he’s talking to me from its pages.

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