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The Chillicothe Voice

Chillicothe’s Hometown Hero — Janet Blew Culbertson: The Lady in the Garden • Her Impact on Others

Sep 28, 2023 11:54AM ● By Gary Sharp

Our parents kept a garden 

For two young sons and me 

And laced each row with wisdom 

That guided us to see.

To reach the goals we wanted 

And leave our parents nest

We had to put the time in 

And do our very best. 

Though one of us has fallen 

And time has slipped away 

We recall our parent’s garden 

That showed three kids the way. 


Many are called, and some answer. In life, it is often found, that when benefits and tokens are so easily given for little or no effort, it could initiate a mindset of expected entitlements and when one has not felt the sting from sacrifice or shared hard work to achieve a common goal, how could this provide good morals and values that are so needed to build character and a strong work ethic?  

We are only as rich as our highest degree of character and faith, labor, and love mean everything. Many folks from The Greatest Generation have declared “ Hell son if it were easy, it wouldn’t be worth the trouble.”

On October 6, 1946, at Methodist Hospital, Peoria IL, Dorah Mae and Homer George Blew welcomed the arrival of their daughter, Janet Kay. Little did they know then, when she opened her eyes that some time later she would open the eyes of so many children and adults yet to be and affect their lives forever, with the gift of knowledge, to prepare them for the journey down life’s highways. 

Raised in a modest home, west of the Rock Island tracks, in Rome IL she and her two brothers came from humble beginnings, but they would all prove to be stellar educators in the arenas of higher learning. Dorah Mae provided a safe and stable home for them and planted the seeds of compassion in her gardens, but the chores    always had to be done. “ She was simply the sweetest and kindest person I have ever known,” says Janet. Hard work was no stranger to Dorah Mae, who lived to be 100 and stressed, “To be the best, you must do your best.” 

In 1951, when Janet was five years old,  Homer was injured in a terrible work accident on the Santa Fe railroad and was told he would never walk again, but he proved them all wrong and later worked at Gray Auto Parts. After 23 years he passed at age 55. He was well-known and highly revered as a man of great character. 

Growing up in the 50s and 60s with two brothers, who always held straight As, was a challenge for Janet but she welcomed it. She was always outnumbered but seldom outgunned and to top it off, she had 10 Uncles to contend with. Her brothers, Jerry and Tony, were exceptional athletes and Janet excelled in sports as well. She was a cheerleader for The Rome Ramblers and a majorette for the Grey Ghosts and Bradley Braves. After graduating from CHS in 1964, she spent five years at Bradley earning a Bachelor of Science degree to teach K thru 10 and an Illinois teaching certificate K thru 9. In 1966 she married Dean Culbertson a well-known star football athlete for the Grey Ghosts and an Air Force Academy recruit.

In 1967, daughter Toni Jo came along and in 1969, son Timothy Dean arrived. JB, as her friends call her, taught 5th grade math to 44 pupils and science to 35 students at Pearce Grade from 1969–1970. later she taught substitute and tutored while doing educational research on teaching struggling learners until 1975. In 1984, her marriage dissolved and she had one child in college and one in high school with a tough row to hoe. But from 1971–1987 she substituted multiple years in grades K–8 self contained and grades 6–12 in math, science, social studies, and English language arts. She coached softball, baton twirling, taught swim lessons, and worked for the Chillicothe Bulletin as a photographer and writer. She was twice president of the Chillicothe Optimist Club and has tutored students of all ages. From 1989–1992 she was a program manager, job developer, and instructor for the Peoria Association of Retarded Citizens, creating a community access and community job program model that was used by the Illinois Department of Rehabilitation for many years. From 1992-94 she was a teacher and coordinator of the GED Connect program and designed and implemented GED/ Life Skills Programs for 16–22-year-old high school dropouts. From February 1994–1995 she was the Administrator of Adult Education Programs at Friendship House in Peoria, IL. In 1995 through Nov. 2004 she was the Principal Consultant at the Illinois State Board of Education in Springfield, IL. From 2004–08 she was Title 1 Director of Peoria Public Schools, District 150 Federal Funds Administrator, Director of ELL services, and Superintendent of Summer Schools pre K–12. She was invited to an international working seminar at Oxford University in England where representatives from all over the world, gathered to review current research, for possible solutions related to poverty and its effects on learning. In 2004–08 she received her Masters Degree in Business Administration and degrees in Education Specialist and Superintendent Endorsement (pre K–12) from Western Illinois University. 

Not bad for a young gal from a small grade school just across the tracks in Rome, and as you might expect, there is really much more to her than these lines can hold. She is rightfully proud of her achievements and career. Recently JB has been very instrumental in securing grants for Chillicothe for much-needed projects in our town. Always helping, teaching, volunteering, inspiring, and giving to others makes the tapestry in the fabric of the portrait her life displays. As they say: The proof is in the pudding and one needs to look no further than her children and grandchildren who carry on her example of volunteering to help less fortunate souls. 

Son, Timothy Dean is a 20-year director of the annual Brad Wallin Baseball Tournaments, and daughter Toni Jo Smith is involved, each year, in the Run, Ride, and Drive activities for St. Jude and more. As with many Hometown Heroes, there are numerous details and facts in their lives and something tells me, JB is not done yet. Somewhere up very high on a hill, far away, with vast green and yellow fields and powder blue skies all around, three kindred spirits look down and smile because they see the chores are not forgotten. There have been and always will be Hometown Heroes in Chillicothe of different walks, occupations, and stature and now, Janet Kay Blew Culbertson, or JB, who now resides in the same home she grew up in with all the cherished memories, joins those ranks. Thank you for your lifetime of service and dedication to others. We will see you in the garden and Happy Birthday.