When kids have trouble concentrating or reading, it’s easy for them to get down about themselves.

Enter Jacqueline Rudman, who specialized in helping students with learning differences at Francis W. Parker School.

“She believed in everyone. These kids were just as intelligent — they just learned differently,” said Allison Kimball, director of the school’s Learning Resource Department (LRD). “She knew if [they] were a fantastic artist, or athlete, or actress or musician. She was interested in them beyond the paper she was helping them write.”

Ms. Rudman, who developed the LRD at Parker in 1969 – when learning challenges weren’t widely understood or addressed – died May 7 at home in Rancho Mirage, California, where she moved after retiring from Parker in 1997. She was 86 and had a form of lung cancer, according to her son Keith.

Jackie Rudman. | Provided photo

In addition to the students, she educated Parker parents and other faculty members.

“She was a master at putting her students’ parents at ease regarding their child’s learning issues,” said Marilyn Freund, a protegee who went on to start a similar program at the Latin School.

“She was excellent at teaching and helping children understand why they learned differently,” said Harriett Cholden, a former fifth-grade teacher at Parker.

Ms. Rudman helped make the LRD a haven for kids who might be struggling.

“She said the Learning Resource room should be right in the mix of things — kids should be coming in and out, so there’s no stigma attached to it,” said Kimball. At the end of every session, “You could go into her jar and take one jelly bean.”

“I can’t tell you how many people have told me, ‘Your mom changed my life,’ ” said her son.

Like David Lieber.

“She believed in me when I didn’t believe in myself,” he said. Lieber started seeing her when he was in third or fourth grade. Now 42, he’s a Washington, D.C.–based lawyer for Google. “She knew I had challenges in certain areas and she tried to understand why I thought the way I thought. I think she really challenged me not to accept limitations I believed I had.”

“She changed a lot of lives,” said Adam Donahue, whom she helped with dyslexia. “She showed me how to comprehend what I was reading. She got me to where letters made sense. To this day, I still use the tricks she taught me.” Donahue, 49, earned an engineering degree from Northern Illinois University and owns a Missouri-based trucking company.

Young Jackie grew up the daughter of Jack and Ida Goldberg. Her Russian-born father operated a successful plumbing company, according to her son. “A big mark for him was he got accepted into the Standard Club. For a Russian immigrant, that was a big deal,” he said. The Goldbergs also belonged to the Idlewild Country Club in Flossmoor, where other members included Sears leaders Julius Rosenwald and Arthur Loeb.

Her family often hosted other Russian immigrants who were trying to find their footing in America.

Jacqueline Rudman and her first husband, Ken. They were married almost 50 years until his death in 2001. | Provided photo

She’d earned a bachelor’s degree from Northwestern University by the time she married Ken Rudman. They had Keith and two more children, Stacy and Craig. Their kids went to Parker. She became interested in learning issues because Craig didn’t learn in traditional ways, her son said. “She’d drop us off at school, then she’d be in the Northwestern library for five hours,” Keith Rudman said. “She did that for five years” to get her master’s degree.

“Northwestern was doing all of the breakthrough research on kids” with learning challenges, said Molly Donahue, a former teacher at Parker. “She was the person who developed the whole learning-differences program at Parker School. Because of her, there are a whole generation of very successful adults who are successful only because she worked with the kids–and with the teachers–explaining what was going on. She would go to bat for these kids all the way to 12th grade.”

Ken Rudman died in 2001 after almost 50 years of marriage. She met her second husband, Marshall Gelfand, in Rancho Mirage.

Jackie Rudman and her second husband, Marshall Gelfand. | Provided photo

Ms. Rudman remained elegant to the last days of her life. “When she got up, she was dressed nice — no sweatpants,” Keith Rudman said.

She volunteered as a docent at the Palm Springs Art Museum.

And she always told people: “Read, read, read.”

In addition to her husband and children, Ms. Rudman is survived by her stepchildren Todd and Dean and Elizabeth Stearns, five grandchildren and three step-grandchildren.

Services are planned at 1:30 p.m. Sunday at Lakeside Congregation for Reform Judaism, 1221 County Line Rd., Highland Park. Her family will receive condolences until 8 p.m. in the community room.

Jackie Rudman and her family. | Provided photo