LISD Education Foundation gala honors beloved teacher

Jane Ripkowski is surrounded by many of her former Prancers drill team members at the Liberty ISD Education Foundation gala on April 23.

Jane Hartel Ripkowski, also known as “Mrs. Rip” in her hometown community of Liberty, Texas, was the star of the Liberty ISD Education Foundation gala on Saturday, April 23, held at the Liberty Center.

Ripkowski was an educator at Liberty ISD schools for 40 years, teaching special education students, leading driver’s education courses, coaching sports and sponsoring the Liberty Prancers drill team.

Ripkowski is a graduate of Liberty High School. She was one of three children of Arthur John “Artie” Hartel, Jr. and Blanche Eleanor Riviére Hartel. Her late brother, Jack Hartel, was the county attorney for 43 years, and her maternal uncle, Bert Riviére, founded First Liberty National Bank (formerly named Liberty State Bank). Her father served as president of the Bank from 1939-1956.

Diminutive in stature but not in heart, Janie Ripkowski is a beloved icon in the Liberty community, best known for her 40 years of teaching.

During high school, Ripkowski was a cheerleader and played basketball despite being less than 5 feet tall. After graduation, she attended college at the University of Incarnate Word in San Antonio for two years before transferring to Sam Houston State University in Huntsville where she earned a bachelor’s degree in education.

Back home in Liberty after college, she worked alongside her father at FLNB for a number of years. When her children reached school age, she left the bank to start her teaching career.

“Aunt Janie has what we call ‘The House in the Middle.’ On one side, she has her childhood home that belonged to her sister, Joann [Hartel Root] and on the other side was Jack’s house,” said her niece, Jackie Hartel Smith, in her speech at the gala. “It was normal for us growing up with all the first cousins together like brothers and sisters.”

Her home is located across from her church – Immaculate Conception Catholic Church in Liberty – and Ripkowski still walks to mass every week.

“If she knows you, she is faithfully praying for you every night,” Smith said.

Now retired and at age 94, she works as a substitute teacher, attends many school sporting events and still takes part in the homecoming night festivities. Smith spoke about the love and respect that continues to be reciprocated for Ripkowski by Liberty High School students.

“The students today love her just as much as they did when she was a full-time teacher. They even gave her a parade through high school for her 90th birthday with the band, signs and everyone lining the hallways,” Smith said.

Of all her accomplishments as a teacher, nothing gives Ripkowski as much pride and joy than her beloved Prancers drill team. She was the Prancers sponsor for 29 years, during which time she taught them grace, beauty and femininity.

“She loved all of the girls. She wasn’t just their sponsor; she was their teacher. She taught them the basics of football, too. She taught life lessons. There are girls who don’t chew gun or swallow it when they see her. It was never ladylike because you, and I quote, look like a cow chewing it,” Smith said.

The Liberty ISD Education Foundation gala was attended by dozens of Ripkowski’s former Prancers who were all eager to share in her moment in the spotlight. At the end of her speech, Smith asked all of Ripkowski’s former students to stand.

“Aunt Janie, all of them have come here especially for you. We are so proud of you,” Smith said.

The Liberty ISD Education Foundation gala is an annual fundraiser that is held to generate money and interest for the Foundation’s grant program. Since its inception in 2007, the Foundation has awarded grants to educators totaling $288,259. This year alone, the Foundation awarded $32,991 in grants to Liberty ISD teachers.

The grants provide funding for projects that are not necessarily covered in the school district’s budget.

“We have a grant award winner this year who received some virtual reality things to use in her classroom. We are happy to fund-raise that money and get that to the teachers so that our students can use those and have those experiences,” said Foundation Board Member Mychal English at the gala.

The gala was sponsored by Edward Jones financial advisor Leslie Herndon and First Liberty National Bank.

To contact the Foundation or for more information about joining its efforts, visit the website at or call Bruce Wright, Foundation Executive Director at 936-641-0367.

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Before creating Bluebonnet News in 2018, Vanesa Brashier was a community editor for the Houston Chronicle/Houston Community Newspapers. During part of her 12 years at the newspapers, she was assigned as the digital editor and managing editor for the Humble Observer, Kingwood Observer, East Montgomery County Observer and the Lake Houston Observer, and the editor of the Dayton News, Cleveland Advocate and Eastex Advocate. Over the years, she has earned more than two dozen writing awards, including Journalist of the Year.

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