O'Fallon Progress

Retired O’Fallon Dist. 90 teacher dies after battling cancer

O'Fallon teacher who died 'would do anything for others'

Principal Kristie Belobrajdic and fifth-grade teacher Annette Neighbors at Hinchcliffe Elementary School in O'Fallon remember retired teacher Ramah Merkel who has died from cancer. They describe Merkel as a "very passionate and caring person."
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Principal Kristie Belobrajdic and fifth-grade teacher Annette Neighbors at Hinchcliffe Elementary School in O'Fallon remember retired teacher Ramah Merkel who has died from cancer. They describe Merkel as a "very passionate and caring person."

A retired O’Fallon District 90 teacher passed away from cancer Sunday.

Ramah L. Merkel, 71, taught in O’Fallon elementary schools for 14 years and retired in June 2008.

Her last post was teaching fifth-graders at Hinchcliffe Elementary. Prior to that, she taught all subjects for fifth grade at Marie Schaefer and Evans Elementary.

Carrie Hruby, District 90 superintendent, asked school board members and staff to “keep Mrs. Merkel’s friends and family in your prayers as they mourn the loss and remember her fondly.”

“District 90 lost a former family member this weekend ... After her retirement, she spent several years taking care of her (mother),” Hruby said.

Becky Drury, a school board member since 1991, got to know Ramah when she volunteered at Hinchcliffe.

“Ramah was one of the people that I hung around a lot while I was there volunteering, while my son was young, and she was so easy to get along with and so friendly,” Drury said.

Drury said she spent many afternoons watching the students flock to Merkel with excitement.

“She was a very nice person who enjoyed her students quite a lot, and she did a very good job. She just loved being with the kids, and the way they’d come up to her, you could just tell that they loved her,” Drury said.

Ramah Merkel
Ramah Merkel in her final year at Hinchcliffe Elementary in 2007-08. Courtesy photo

Drury said she was happy to hear the board pay tribute.

“I think it’s important to honor those who have given so much of themselves and a lot of years to the district,” Drury said.

Mary Baskett, another longtime school board member and veteran O’Fallon teacher, said she knew Merkel well.

“Ramah was a skilled teacher, willing to always do whatever was needed for students and her peers, a loyal friend and a very classy lady. She had a lively sense of humor, intelligence and knew how to have fun. District 90 was fortunate to have her. Her friends and co-workers will cherish good memories from her life, and she will be missed,” Baskett said.

Annette Neighbors, a fifth-grade teacher at Hinchcliffe, said she and Merkel were “educator teammates for years.”

“She was always very fun and animated — especially with her hands — when she taught. But she was also an ‘old school’ educator, in that everything had to be a certain way, and she was very regimented. And it showed through the students’ work, too,” Neighbors said.

Neighbors said Merkel was also known for her fashion sense.

“Mrs. Merkel had a stool that she would often times sit on as she addressed the class, and her shoes were always something the class loved to look at. She wore sandals, always had her toenails painted to match the sandals, to match the outfit,” Neighbors said.

Kristie Belobrajdic, Hinchcliffe principal, said she remembers Merkel for her sunshine, floral and beach-print sandals, as well as her trendy jewelery.

“She loved a good time — not only with her peers — but she loved to laugh with the students, tell stories with the students, share things with the students, and they enjoyed that as well,” Belobrajdic said.

Belobrajdic and Neighbors both said Merkel’s family was her life’s focus.

“They meant the world to her,” Neighbors said.

Said Belobrajdic: “She often talked about her daughter and her family, and took such pride in her daughter, Kelly, and her grandkids.

“She was just a very passionate, caring person and would do anything for others that you asked of her, without hesitating would jump in and offer help. She loved to laugh and make people happy.”

Funeral services will be at noon Friday at Lake View Funeral Home, 5000 N. Illinois St. in Fairview Heights, with burial to follow.

Robyn L. Kirsch: 618-239-2690, @BND_RobynKirsch

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