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Bellwood founder honored with tree dedication in Franklin Park

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Courtesy of Don Nelson
Bellwood Preschool student Ellie Kutlenios and Jan Ridenour of Marshall Township work together to shovel in some dirt on a tree planted in Ridenout’s honor. Preschool students planted two redbud trees April 22, 2013, Earth Day, to honor Ridenour, who recently retired after 44 years at Bellwood, which is in Franklin Park.

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Wednesday, May 1, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

For Jan Ridenour, life is about nurture and nature.

And to honor her, students at Bellwood Preschool in Franklin Park planted two redbud trees on Earth Day last week and dedicated them to Ridenour, one of the school's founders. Ridenour, 76, retired last year after 44 years looking after the children's education.

“I'm humbled,” the Marshall Township resident said about the staff and board members who treated her to a Pittsburgh river cruise. “It was a nice surprise.”

School director Linda Moser wanted to think of something special to celebrate Ridenour.

“She has a wonderful way of letting children explore — especially nature,” said Moser, 67. “She's never afraid to get dirty. She's patient. She taught them how to observe nature.”

The love of the outdoors is second nature to Ridenour, who has been an active member of the North Area Environmental Council and Pine Creek Land Conservation Trust, where she now is president.

She grew up in Edgewood and remembers playing in the woods.

“I've always been a tree hugger,” she said.

In a bid to bring more environmentally-focused education into classrooms, the first local celebration of Earth Day promoted by Ridenour in the 1970s brought North Allegheny teachers into North Park for a professional-development day.

Ridenour began her career at Bellwood in 1969. After a three-week summer workshop at a Connecticut preschool, she began redesigning activities at her school. In addition to her recreation education degree from Penn State University, she studied the Montessori Method of individualized education to expand her program.

Today, Bellwood's mission for the 3-, 4- and 5-year-olds and their parents is “to provide each child with the opportunity to problem solve, explore and be empowered in a nurturing environment that develops compassionate children who know they live in a global village on a fragile planet. “

The school's rural setting at the Unitarian Universalist Church of the North Hills invites the children into the outdoors.

“We're now hatching chicken eggs and watching caterpillars turn into butterflies,” Moser said.

Having devoted 38 years to the school, Moser also enrolled her daughter Emily, who now is 42 and in her first year of teaching there. What they both like about the instructional style is “Kids always had time to tell what's on their minds and in their hearts,” Linda Moser said.

Ridenour's six grandchildren also attended Bellwood.

“They're a very loving staff,” Ridenour said, as she watched the teachers usher the children back into the building. “I couldn't have asked for a better journey.”

Dona S. Dreeland is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-772-6353 or ddreeland@tribweb.

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