At a north suburban high school known for academics, Jeff Yordy made his mark teaching horticulture.
Mr. Yordy, who died March 29 at age 55 following heart surgery, started teaching at Glenbrook South High School in Glenview in 1984, and the school horticulture team he coached won the state championship for an astounding 22 years of his tenure there.
Brian Wegley, the school’s principal, called him “an esteemed leader in the field of horticulture education . . . As Glenbrook South’s horticulture instructor and the one who created and cultivated a nationally recognized horticulture and floriculture program, Mr. Yordy defined a brilliant teacher.
“Under his direction, students not only learned about horticulture at GBS, they did horticulture in ways that affected and enhanced the school and community.”
He had students “design and landscape the school’s courtyard,” Wegley said, and they also “created and tended a donation vegetable garden on school property that has provided hundreds of pounds of produce given to the local food pantry.”
Mr. Yordy received a bachelor’s degree in ornamental horticulture from the University of Illinois in 1982, then taught for two years at the Lake County Area Vocational Center before joiningGlenbrook South’s science department, where his work won him the school’s “Distinguished Teacher Award” in 2010.
He was an assistant football coach from 1984 to 2001 and sponsor of the school’s Horticulture Club since 1987 and of the Horticulture National Team since 1992.
Lauren Gabuzzi, a 2012 graduate, was a member of a Glenbrook South horticulture team coached by Mr. Yordy that took first place in state at a University of Illinois tournament for plant identification and care her senior year and is now studying international agriculture and rural development at Cornell University in New York.
“It’s incredible how many students went into horticulture,” Gabuzzi said. “He’s the reason why I’m here.”
She said Mr. Yordy was honest with his students to the point of being “blunt.”
“He would not let you just float by,” she said.
Elim Jeong, a 2012 graduate now studying agricultural and consumer economics at the University of Illinois, remembered his horticulture instructor as “kind” and “just.”
“Yordy — who has always called me his Korean son — was a friend and a mentor who will always be in our hearts,” Jeong said.
Brett McNish, who graduated from Glenbrook South in 1994, said he was inspired by Mr. Yordy to become a horticulturist at the Smithsonian Gardens in Washington, D.C.
“He saw some measure of potential in an awkward 16-year-old, and, for that, I will always owe him debts of gratitude which I will never be able to properly repay,” McNish said. “If not for his guiding influence, I may not have eventually met my botanist wife, had two perfect children or led a rewarding career; all of which I hold most dear.”
McNish said he exchanged emails with Mr. Yordy a few weeks ago. “He said he was proud of me. A more fulfilling affirmation is not possible.”
Todd Price, director of the Historic Wagner Farm in Glenview, said Mr. Yordy worked to integrate horticulture into the “Bee @ The Farm” program for special needs students and was a standout teacher there, too.
“He was an amazing teacher who was a contagious spark in classrooms,” Price said.
Services have been held.