Jean E. Breiner, a registered nurse who had been the school nurse at Padonia Elementary School for more than two decades, died Friday of myleoid leukemia at her Timonium home. She was 77.
The daughter of a truck driver and a homemaker, the former Jean Elizabeth Fedder — a fraternal twin — was born in Lebanon, Pa., and raised in Avon, Pa.
"Joan Fedder, Jean's fraternal twin sister, was the youngest by 15 minutes," said a daughter, Nancy A. Sangiorgi of Ellicott City. "You could always tell the twins were coming by their identical outfits, worn from birth through high school."
While growing up, Mrs. Breiner earned extra money helping to harvest farmers' crops and working as a waitress at a local drugstore soda fountain.
While Mrs. Breiner was a student at South Lebanon High School in Lebanon, Pa., she was a cheerleader and majorette and during her senior year was selected Basketball Queen.
Music was always an important part of her life, and during her high school and college years, she was a member of a quartet that traveled to New York City and performed on the television talent show "Ted Mack and the Original Amateur Hour."
Since she was in the fourth grade, Mrs. Breiner had wanted to study nursing and become a school nurse. After graduating from high school in 1953, she entered the School of Nursing of the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, from which she earned her nursing degree in 1956.
"You set your priorities and stick with them, and if you work hard, you will soon find success," Mrs. Breiner told a granddaughter in an interview for a school project called "Gift of Age: Sharing Triumph over Obstacles."
It was through music that Mrs. Breiner met and fell in love with her husband. She had been performing in Reading, Pa., as a member of a singing duet with her nursing school roommate when she got a ride back to Philadelphia with a Drexel University undergraduate, Robert W. Breiner.
The couple began dating and were engaged in 1954. They married two years later.
After moving to Baltimore, Mrs. Breiner started nursing in 1968 at the old Lutheran Hospital in West Baltimore, and subsequently worked in the intensive care unit at Greater Baltimore Medical Center.
Desiring to have more regular hours, Mrs. Breiner went to work as a school nurse at Padonia Elementary School, now Padonia International Elementary School, in Cockeysville.
Mrs. Breiner cared for both the school's children and its staff. In addition to her professional duties, for years she collected and distributed clothes to needy students.
She also participated in the annual Thanksgiving food drive to collect and deliver food to school families in need.
"Jean was without a doubt a human body that held all the compassion and feeling of an angel. She was an angel in a human body," said Mary Ann Gruntowicz, a former Padonia fourth-grade teacher.
"She was one of the best people I've ever known in my life, and I say that without any reservations," said Ms. Gruntowicz. "Jean could tell you if a child was having a problem that wasn't visible to us. She went way beyond being a nurse. That just described her job and she treated every child with care, compassion and love and she did for the adults, too."
A fifth-grade teacher credited Mrs. Breiner with saving his life.
"She diagnosed his illness and told him the tests to have performed, which led to implanting a lifesaving pacemaker," her daughter said. "Another teacher suffered from debilitating body pain that stymied doctors for months and was even told it was 'all in her head.' She expertly and correctly diagnosed her as having shingles."
To honor her years of service to Padonia Elementary, the school's PTA named its health suite after Mrs. Breiner at the time of her 1995 retirement.
Neighborhood children often turned to Mrs. Breiner for care. "She also provided splinter and bee-stinger removal surgeries," her daughter said.
During a family backpacking/camping trip in the wilderness of Algonquin Provincial State Park in Canada, Mrs. Breiner, despite a lack of medical supplies, helped stabilize a young man who had seriously wounded himself with an ax while cutting wood and had suffered blood loss.
She was an active member of St. Timothy's Evangelical Lutheran Church, where she taught Bible school, sang in the choir, and was a member of its duckpin bowling league.
Mrs. Breiner also co-chaired the church's annual holiday bake sale fundraiser, where she donated her highly sought-after pumpkin pies. An experienced quilter, she also made quilts that were distributed to the needy through Lutheran World Relief.
Diagnosed in 2009 with the disease that ended her life, Mrs. Breiner participated in two experimental clinical trials at the Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center under the direction of Dr. Hetty Carraway.
Mrs. Breiner enjoyed camping, canoeing, backpacking and hiking. She was an avid traveler and liked spending time at an Ocean City condominium that she and her husband owned.
She was a collector of teapots and liked working in her garden.
Funeral services will be held at 11 a.m. Friday at her church, 100 E. Timonium Road.
In addition to her husband, who retired from CSX where he worked in equipment planning, and her daughter, Mrs. Breiner is survived by a son, Robert W. Breiner Jr. of Bel Air; another daughter, Dr. June Breiner of Timonium; two sisters, Eunice Reist of Lebanon, Pa., and Joan Books of Cleona, Pa.; and four grandchildren.