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‘She was a light’: Letcher County teacher leaves legacy of love after COVID-19 death

Published: Sep. 22, 2021 at 5:24 PM EDT
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JENKINS, Ky. (WYMT) - A Letcher County teacher died Monday after a fight with COVID-19, leaving behind a legacy and an absence that educators say will be felt immensely.

Joannie Bartley, 29, was well-loved in her community. A graduate of East Ridge High School and the University of Pikeville, Bartley spent years in pursuit of higher education to become an educator for other young minds.

And when it comes to educators, she is said to have been a textbook example.

“When I first met her, I knew right away that she was going to be a good teacher,” said co-worker and friend Brian Bentley. “She was meant for teaching.”

Teachers and students alike knew Bartley as a hard worker, loving friend, and a joy in the classroom. They say she was always pushing students to their highest potential and mentoring other teachers to do the same.

“Our students are sad,” said Principal Wendy Rutherford. “They really feel like they’ve lost a friend as well as a teacher.”

Superintendent Damian Johnson said the loss of such a dedicated, talented teacher will leave a hole in the school, but he is proud of the way his teachers and students are coming together to remember Mrs. Bentley.

He said even through her previous health concerns, which made them play things even safer with Bartley as COVID-19 entered the region, she was always anxious to be with her students and help them succeed.

“She had the heart of a teacher and she knew that her students needed her and this is where she wanted to be,” Johnson said.

Friends and co-worker shared their prayers for her family, saying the woman and teacher they knew and loved will forever be a part of the school, shaping the students and staff for years to come. She will be remembered for her faith, her love of family, her magnetic friendship, and her fearless pursuit of shaping minds in Appalachia.

“She lived that. And she was the epitome of that. And we are proud of that and that will always be a part of who we are. She leaves that with us,” said Rutherford. “She was a light.”

She was a wife, sister, daughter, and friend. But more than all of that, they say she was an incredible human whose smile and joy was the brightness in any room.

“Losing someone that I admire and I aspired to be? I can’t even fathom it,” said friend and co-worker Jenna Riddle.

She said the unexpected loss is shaking the community and they are in prayer for her husband Adam, her mother, and her siblings.

“Lean on your faith,” said Riddle. “Do what Joannie would do.”

Officials say Bartley was fully vaccinated and careful about the virus, but she had other medical conditions that put her at further risk. Now, her love will fuel a legacy of care and compassion in the community.

“We’ll carry Joannie in our hearts for the rest of our lives,” Bentley said.

The district cancelled classes Friday to allow people to attend her funeral. Her obituary and arrangements can be found here.

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