ALAMEDA -- A much-admired Alameda High School teacher passed away this past week, leaving a legacy of dedication, enthusiasm and spunk.
JoAna Sydow, 56, taught marketing classes for 16 years at AHS and was a champion for her students, whether as a class adviser or as an instructor, said school librarian Kelly Gregor, who knew Sydow for 15 years. In 2002, both were class advisers.
"She took charge. She was so on top of things that there was no option for students to procrastinate, fail or drop the ball. She really, really believed in young people and completely supported them and pushed them so they could be proud of the work they did.
"All of us have positive things to say to say about JoAna," Gregor continued. "Whether people worked with her for 15 years or 15 hours, they have really glowing memories of her. She lit up a room; she was so positive and was such an enthusiastic presence."
Sydow was active in DECA, a national marketing club for students learning business and management skills. As part of the Career Technical Education program, she taught classes in sports and entertainment marketing, fashion marketing and in managing the student-run school store, The Hive, among other marketing classes. Her work was award-winning, Gregor said, who added that Sydow was well known in the Northern California branch of the DECA club.
Despite years of conquering bouts with breast cancer, including enduring the treatments while taking time off work, Gregor said Sydow was delightfully plucky.
"The first time she came in with a wig, I told her she looked great," Gregor said. "She just owned it. She said, 'If I have to lose my hair, I'm getting a great wig.' She had a few. She was never one to wallow and feel sorry for herself."
The last time Sydow took some time off after learning the cancer had returned and spread, people expected her to return, as she always had in the past. Losing her, said Gregor, is surreal and unfair.
School Board President Margie Sherratt said: "JoAna was among the very best of educators in terms of being upbeat, enthusiastic, caring and nurturing. She never let anything get the best of her. She always saw the positive."
"We would like to express our deepest sympathy to JoAna's family, friends and colleagues," said Barbara Adams, assistant superintendent of the school district. "JoAna was a vital member of the AHS community -- one who had a positive and inspiring influence not only on her students but her fellow teachers. She will be deeply missed."
Sydow is survived by her husband, John Sydow, of Hayward, where the couple lived. Sydow is a native of Idaho. A service may be planned after the school's holiday break.
In an email among AHS staffers, someone wrote of Sydow: "She was a bright light with a huge heart. Our halls will be darker without her bright spirit."