Jevne, Sequim school co-founder and Vietnam veteran, dies

“Bill lived as well as he died,” Juanita Jevne said.

After battling prostate cancer for 22 years, Bill Jevne, a founder of Five Acre School, died at the age of 72 in his Sequim home on Saturday, April 1.

Bill’s wife Juanita, 59, and his son William, 24, said Bill lived his life up until his very last moments.

“We just lived with death sitting right at the table with us for a long time,” Juanita said.

She and William described Bill as a compassionate, empathetic and kind man with many nicknames from his students at Sequim Middle School who called him “Waldo” to his fellow men he served with in the Marine Corps that still call him “Lieutenant.”

Bill and Juanita Jevne are known for establishing Five Acre School, an independent elementary school located adjacent to the Dungeness Recreation Area in Sequim, serving preschool through sixth-grade students.

The school started in the Jevnes home in 1994 while they worked on building the schoolhouse. Juanita and Bill were the teachers with eight or nine students in preschool and kindergarten.

“That was Bill’s original dream … to start with a preschool and add a grade per year until we had a full elementary school,” Juanita said.

She said she never expected Bill to want to open a school, but said he disagreed with the way many schools were shifting to focus on mandatory testing.

“He came home one day and said he wanted to start a school,” Juanita said.

The school was a one-room schoolhouse made out of straw bale — the first commercial straw bale building in Washington.

Five Acre School soon would become the embodiment of its founding philosophy, “where children have room to grow,” focusing on student-led learning and incorporating many hands on activities, such as riding horses, exploring the outdoors, music and drama.

“Dad really believed strongly in the theory of multiple intelligences,” William said.

“He really believed that people learned by doing,” Juanita added.

In 1998, the Jevnes finally expanded the school into a full elementary school. It was the same year Bill was diagnosed with prostate cancer.

With the new diagnosis, Juanita said Bill’s role shifted to that of a principal and director. The Jevnes started hiring more teachers and Bill and Juanita stayed with the school until 2012 when Bill’s prostate cancer came back at a metastatic level.

The Jevnes then transitioned ownership over the next two years to the current owners Autumn Piontek-Walsh and Brian Walsh, who still carry out many of the same philosophies the school was founded on.

“I can be like the grandpa,” Jevne said in January 2013. “I’m really ready for retirement. I’m so confident in the future of this school (that) I’m not having a hard time with it.”

War and peace

Juanita said Bill’s experience as a Marine Corps platoon commander in the Vietnam War had a significant influence on his life.

He enlisted in 1968 and served for three years with a 12-month deployment as a second lieutenant in Vietnam, where he was awarded the Bronze Star for valor.

Bill went to Washington, D.C., in 1990 to visit the Vietnam memorial and found the names of all his men that died, Juanita said. He also was able to get in contact with many of the surviving men, she added, and met with them at several reunions.

“They all still called him Lieutenant at all the reunions,” Juanita said. “It was pretty amazing.”

After his service in the Marine Corps, Bill went to the University of Washington to earn a teaching certificate. He later met Juanita at his first teaching job through a program called Head Start, a federally funded program for low-income families in Sequim and Port Angeles.

He then served as a teacher in the Sequim School District for seven years before establishing Five Acre School.

Tom Harris, a teacher at Five Acre School since 2001, said Bill’s war experience profoundly influenced his life, taking that experience to promote peace to peers and, on occasion, to youths at the school.

“He was always a spokesman for non-violence … a spokesman for peace,” Harris said. “On Veterans Day, he would come in and talk about what an honor it (was to) be a veteran.

“He had a great way with kids; he had a willingness to engage.”

Harris came to the school when the Jevnes decided to offer grades 3-6. Harris took on classroom work as Bill transitioned to a more administrative role, Harris recalled.

While academics were stressed at Five Acre School, Harris said Bill believed that “the most important thing (for students) is their social and emotional well-being.”

Bill often was called in to resolve disputes between students, Harris said.

“He was always willing to drop anything,” Harris said. “It usually involved letting them have their say. He didn’t have to solve (the problem). He had a really nice way of doing that. That’s what he saw his role as: helping with these social pitfalls.

“It was peace and reconciliation on a small scale.”

Interests, hobbies

Before Bill and Juanita started Five Acre School, they brought the Missoula Children’s Theatre to Sequim for 17 years.

Both Bill and Juanita were involved in community theater in Sequim and Port Angeles and also helped pioneer contra dancing on the peninsula through what is still known as the Black Diamond Community Dance.

“Bill never liked to sit still,” Juanita said. “He was always in motion.”

Some of Bill’s hobbies included sailing, playing music and being in the outdoors. He also became an ordained minister and married many couples on the peninsula.

“He also really liked skiing,” William said. He explained Bill would spend summers in Sequim and winters in France coaching hockey and skiing.

Bill’s affection for hockey ran deep. He attended Dartmouth College, where he was a member of the varsity hockey team, and upon discharge from the military, he worked as hockey coach in Val D’Isere, France.

Juanita said that in the last five years, Bill lived his life to its fullest potential.

She said the Jevne family moved to Colorado for a year so Bill could pursue his passion for skiing.

“He hadn’t forgot anything,” Juanita said. “Skiing became his passion again in the last years.”

Bill also went to Mongolia on a horse trek, floated the Grand Canyon, skied 90 days of the season in Colorado, rode his horses in the mountains and recorded an album called “Healing from War Set” about his experience in Vietnam.

“We knew we were really pushing the limits but he was going out as hard as he could,” Juanita said.

Saying goodbye

In April of last year Bill’s cancer interfered with his lymphatic system and the family moved back to Sequim for treatment at the Olympic Medical Cancer Center.

One of his final milestones was taking a yurt and supplies to the protesters defending the Standing Rock Sioux tribe in North Dakota last December with his son William.

Before Bill died, Juanita said he made sure to say goodbye to as many family and friends as he could whether it was in person, by phone call or through email.

A memorial service will be held for Bill in the Fellowship Hall at Sequim Community Church on Saturday, April 22, with the doors opening at 3:15 p.m. and the service starting at 4 p.m. The service is open to the public, 950 N. Fifth Ave., Sequim.

An open house also will be held the same day at Five Acre School from 10 a.m.-2 p.m., 515 Lotzgesell Road, Sequim.

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