by Maggie Boyle Judi
The education of Jane Beckwith didn’t really begin until after her graduation from Brigham Young University, when she became a Buckaroo, in Monticello, in the fall of 1968.
Fresh from the education program, her enthusiasm for her new job was brimming over.
Her principal, Dale Maughan had an “inclusive leadership style” that gave the fledgling teacher and her peers the freedom to do their jobs in the way they envisioned.
Jane taught at Monticello High School twice, beginning in 1968 and then returning several years later.
Jane lived in a little brick house, southwest of the high school, with a fellow teacher named Penny Foutz. The young duo were welcomed warmly by their new students, who in actuality were only a few years younger than their fresh-faced teachers.
When Jane speaks of Monticello, a chuckle and a smile run through her words as she relates many memories of the people and adventures she found.
Jane remembers Penny suggesting they dress up in football pads and helmets and join practice, which they did fully participating in the rigors of gridiron preparation for one afternoon, giggling and guffawing their way through it.
She recounts a story of a cold and rainy Sunday where Kim Lewis, Davie Smith and Steve Giles decided they would go to the gymnasium in the school for some entertainment, “which,” she says, “is probably not something we should have done.”
Swinging from an eyelet in the ceiling was a thick climbing rope and Jane decided to swing from it. “I was swinging as far as I could make it go… and it was great!”
Her exhilaration was short lived, “I looked up just as the hook come out of the slot. It was like a cartoon. I sailed across the room, hit the wall and slid down. Kim Lewis said, ‘Is she breathing?’”
The chuckle in her voice turns to full-bodied laughter at this memory. She says, “It’s hard hearing someone talk about you in the third person.”
Jane recounts many other adventures, driving with Grayson Redd to Durango for a bag of delicious artichokes, climbing the old water tower and afternoons on the mountain.
She remembers Rob Adams singing Bob Dylan at the homecoming assembly, and a student council race to Salt Creek in jeeps, when Doyle Rowley provided a case of oil for his daughter, Celia, along with instructions to fill the jeep with oil every hour.
She says of the people and places she knew… “Monticello was a wonder.” Overriding all the fun is the fact that Jane was an awesome teacher who pushed her students, and expected their best.
That kind of firebrand, fun-loving style was and is indicative of Jane Beckwith today, more than 40 years removed from her days as a teacher in Monticello. She moved on to a career of teaching exemplified by her dedication to people, words, and perhaps most importantly, her students.
In the late 1970s, Jane moved back home to teach in Delta during a boom for that area caused by the construction of a massive power plant. It brought with it people from all over the world to little Delta, where Beckwith found that a lot of the newcomers were less than impressed with their new surroundings.
“They felt like it was a pitiful little town with nothing much to offer them. I felt like I needed to show them something that made them understand how historic this part of Utah was.”
In this way, Jane figured they would come to feel a little bit better about their new surroundings. So she asked her journalism students to interview people in the community who had worked at Topaz.
Topaz was an internment camp built in 1942, just 16 miles northwest of Delta, to house Japanese Americans who were deemed unnecessarily; as dangerous by their own country and forced to give up their homes and jobs to live in prison camps surrounded by guards for the duration of World War II.
Jane had always sensed a mystery surrounding Topaz growing up in Delta, and she and her students felt deeply about learning more. Their research, she says, “really hit a nerve with the town and with my students.”
She goes on, “Kids would sometimes run into my class because the night before they had found something new about Topaz and wanted to share the latest bits of information, shouting out things like, ‘You won’t believe what I found last night!’”
“It was just amazing. I was teaching them and they were teaching me, and they were teaching each other. My students came to understand what an unusual piece of history Topaz was, and it really affected them. It made them look at this town differently and it made them look at minorities in a kinder way.”
No one had talked much about it before then. “It was such a complicated and disastrous history.”
Jane remembers people speculating about an internee who had been shot there, her mother mentioning the beautiful paper flowers the Japanese made and a man who worked as a linotype for her father’s newspaper business.
But, she says, “I never had the sense to ask people about it, I never asked my teachers or learned about it.” Until her students needed a purpose, that is. Resurrecting that information for Beckwith and her students enabled them to share something new, to learn something that they’d never heard before, Jane remembers, “It was very powerful.”
Of her students, Jane says, “If it hadn’t been for their enthusiasm, I wouldn’t have ever gotten to first base on building a museum.”
And so the effort was born to preserve the history of the Japanese in Millard County. Jane has spent the better part of 30 years organizing the Topaz Museum Board to create a place where people can learn about the consequences of fear and racism. The museum was finished in 2014, funded by grants and donations. It currently houses beautiful art pieces created by the internees of Topaz.
The museum is opened, with hundreds of artifacts, photographs and even a replica of a tar paper house the internees lived in. All of which Jane and her board have spent countless hours securing for the priceless purpose of education.
In speaking of the efforts to secure 600 plus acres of historic Topaz land, Jane says, “Go to Google Earth and look at Topaz. You can see the footprint of what’s left out there. It’s a lot.”
The same can be said, perhaps, about Jane herself. The footprint of preservation that began with a curiosity for the past, mixed with a dash of hometown pride and a healthy portion of maverick determination, has enabled her to teach well beyond her own classrooms in Delta and Monticello.
If you would like to know more about the Topaz Museum, go to topazmuseum.org and see just how busy Jane has been.