COLUMBIA CITY — Janet Hinen, a well-known, much loved, local educator, recently created an endowment fund at the Community Foundation of Whitley County to share her love of teaching.

The “Giving a Helping Hand Fund” was entirely her idea and for generations to come it will benefit kindergarten through fifth-grade elementary school teachers new to Whitley County Consolidated Schools.

A graduate of Columbia City High School and Ball State University, Hinen spent her entire career teaching at Whitley County Consolidated Schools before retiring in 2016 due to illness. Known for inviting entire classrooms of students to her home for end-of-year water fights, hosting Tickled Pink fundraisers where kids could tell a joke for a quarter, and bringing in treats for no reason, Hinen’s most important gift has been showing those around her the true meaning of kindness.

Hinen succumbed to her illness Monday.

Her endowment fund will provide grants to help each teacher make their classroom a special place. The money can be used for decorations, snacks or supplies for a unique classroom project; the choice is theirs. Grants will be made to teachers in both traditional and special needs classrooms during their first year of employment at WCCS.

Hinen’s hope was that her love of teaching will be carried forward. You’ll know that is occurring when you come across a teacher who is a shelter for the quirky kids, allowing them to be who they are and celebrating their differences; a teacher who tells jokes and laughs at theirs; who sings, dances or does jumping jacks to start the day; and a teacher who, at some point during the school year, makes each student feel as though they are a favorite. Hinen urged each student to be their best self, but the most important lesson she taught was how to be a good person.

“Miss Hinen’s classroom was more than a classroom. She showed me how to love learning. I had fun, I was challenged, welcomed, encouraged and appreciated. Looking back, it’s hard to remember a classroom that was filled with as much love as Miss Hinen put into hers,” said former student Brooks Walker, now a sophomore at Huntington University and an intern for the Community Foundation this summer.

Anyone can make a tax-deductible contribution to The Giving a Helping Hand Fund. Gifts can be sent to the Community Foundation at 400 N. Whitley St., Columbia City, or online via Paypal at cfwhitley.org.