OKEECHOBEE — This week’s Inspiring Okeechobee story is a tribute to Jason Egli, who taught English at Okeechobee High School. He was suggested as a subject for the Inspiring Okeechobee series by multiple people, because of his upbeat attitude and his love for his students. Unfortunately, Mr. Egli lost his battle with cancer on Jan. 16. According to his mom, Doris Egli, his desire was to return to the classroom and teach, but God had other plans.
Mr. Egli moved to Okeechobee from Williamsport, Penn. in 2007 and began teaching at Okeechobee High School in August. When he was hired, he became an English teacher and was a coach for junior varsity boys’ basketball for three years and varsity basketball assistant coach for four years.
He taught for a year in Virginia before coming to Florida.
When he first got to Okeechobee, he was very active and healthy despite the fact that he had been injured in high school during a basketball game and broke his neck. He was paralyzed for a time, but fought his way back from that until he was fully recovered. He was a real fighter, said his friends.
Basketball was his favorite, but he played racquetball and tennis too.
When he was diagnosed with Colorectal cancer, and his life began to change. The doctors gave him about five years to live, and he started treatments, all kinds of treatments. His mom drove him to the Cleveland Clinic and took him to different trials for experimental treatments. Any research or trial ever mentioned, he was there. He refused to give up, said his friends.
Through it all, he continued to teach. They had substitutes come in occasionally, as needed. He finally retired in December.
You would never realize he was sick if he didn’t tell you, said his friend Dawn Martin. “He always took time for his students. He listened to them rather than just teaching them. He was always looking for a way to make other people smile. His illness didn’t define him. He had a positive outlook on life.” Even his Facebook posts were always positive. For Christmas, he had a sign made for his mom proclaiming, “Every little thing’s gonna be all right.” This was Mr. Egli’s motto, she said. He lived by it every single day. One of his coworkers said everyone who left his classroom left with a smile. “He had such a great sense of humor and was very quirky.”
His friend and co-worker Willie Welch said they started teaching at OHS together in 2007 and coached basketball together. “He was a very good musician too. He was very loving, caring and unselfish.”
Another friend, Shawn Hays, said, “ Jason had an unbelievable ability to connect with his students and players. His door was always open to anyone who walked through it.”
Bryan VanCamp said, “His students and players loved his sense of humor, and he was able to motivate them with his own personal recovery from paralysis as a teenager.”
He started a group called “Open Arms” to benefit cancer patients. They made bracelets and sold them. Despite the fact that he was a cancer patient himself, he loved being to help other cancer patients and educate them on cancer terms and treatments and the different things people go through during a cancer journey. “If anyone asked him anything about his cancer, he was willing to answer them,” Ms. Martin said.
Mr. Egli had a service dog named McCready, who he adored.
Mr. Egli, along with his mom, was a member of His Church in Buckhead Ridge, and today, Sunday, Jan. 26, they will hold a Life Celebration in his honor, beginning at 4 p.m.
Mr. Egli’s mom was one of his closest friends and was his constant caregiver and companion. She is a strong woman of faith, who has not only lost her son Jason but also her oldest son as well. In the face of all odds, she remains faithful to God’s promises, said her friend Melissa Thomas Courson.
Music was one of Mr. Egli’s favorite things, and one of his students, Erik Tiger, called him the best “Rock and Roll” teacher he ever had. Mr. Egli even started his own band while he was fighting cancer. At first, they called themselves “The Department,” but soon, they changed the name to “The Walking Wounded.�� They played at Applebees and at Parrot Island Grill. Mr. Egli played the guitar and the harmonica.
Hundreds of friends and former students took to Facebook to mourn his passing but many also said they felt confident they would see him again someday in Heaven.
Brenda Rush said, “You are so missed on this earth, and you are such an inspiration to all that knew you. You were strong and brave! You fought the good fight! I know you are free from pain now, and you can enjoy the blessings of the Lord. I know you are in the arms of God, and you can rest … Be free!
Elia Suarez said, “R.I.P. Mr. Egli, You were more than just a teacher. You touched so many lives throughout your life here on Earth, I hope I can leave an impression like you have one day. Thank you for making this world a better place. We love you! Fly high!”
Patrick Milliken said, “R.I.P. Mr. Jason Egli. Your long fight with cancer is over. Even though you’ve had it for many years now, you showed everyone you knew that even in hard times not to give up. You were a great 10th grade English teacher and a strong person. Rest easy.
India Coons said he was the teacher who made the biggest impact in her life, and she aspired to be as strong and optimistic as he was. She enjoyed starting Open Arms at OHS with him and helping others with cancer in the community and how much it meant to him. “As a friend, he was always there for me and every one of his students. He was down to earth, with a strong, positive, selfless attitude. I went to Applebees with other students just to see his band and support him the way he supported our goals.”
These are just a few of the many comments posted to say goodbye to Mr. Egli. Gone, but never forgotten — a very inspiring man.