John Richard Near
May 28, 1953 – September 26, 2009
John Near, longtime and beloved history teacher at The Harker School, passed away at home – with his wife and daughter at his side – after a four-year journey with colorectal cancer. John’s career at Harker spanned 31 years as a middle and upper school teacher, coach and department chair, and in spite of the cancer, he taught full-time until May. Over the years John inspired countless students to love history, and more recently, he and his family touched the entire community with their life-embracing dignity and courage in the face of great adversity.
Minnesota-born, John moved to the Bay Area when he was three, and graduated from Del Mar High School and the University of California at Santa Barbara. John began teaching world history and geography at Harker in 1978. For many years, he taught eighth grade U.S. history; in 2000, he moved to the newly launched upper school where he served as department chair and taught AP U.S. History and AP U.S. Government and Politics.
In the classroom, John represented a unique blend of gravitas and heart that brought out the best in his students. He challenged his students with his legendary steely gaze, but they always knew they had his unerring support. The students returned his affection by inviting him, on multiple occasions, to deliver the Baccalaureate address, an end-of-year farewell to seniors.
John also loved sports, and was a natural athlete. He played basketball and golf in high school – and continued both for many years – and coached several sports at Harker, including football, basketball, soccer, softball and, in more recent years, girls varsity basketball. Being in a John Near classroom or on a team was about infinitely more than just learning history or basketball. It was about life lessons, integrity, truth to oneself, goodness and honesty.
John’s piercing insight always advocated for policies that promoted teaching excellence, institutional kindness, and most importantly, care for students. After a lengthy faculty dialogue, John would sometimes say, “That’s true, but what about…” and typically astonished the room with uncommon common sense on how we ought to think about teaching and children. This year, John was awarded Harker’s Phyllis Carley Lifetime Service Award for his tremendous career at the school. The history department also named the annual history award given to an outstanding senior in the subject the John Near Excellence in History Award. Finally, the Near family has endowed the John Near Excellence in History Education Endowment Fund to promote professional development and pedagogical excellence in history education.
Family members missing John immensely are his wife (and forever girlfriend) Pam Dickinson; daughter Casey Near; parents Jim and Pat Near of Hawaii; brother Bob Near of Aptos; brother Randy Near and wife, Sherrie, of Gilroy; sister Nancy Lawton and her husband, Tyler, of La Jolla; brother Rob Vanderhoof and his wife, Helen, of Grass Valley; two brothers-in-law and their partners, Bruce and Amy Dickinson, and Jimmy Dickinson and Jan Mallory; and many Near and Dickinson nieces and nephews. John was predeceased by his mother Marguerite (Berg) Near. His closest friends – Steve Tedesco, Craig Pettingill and Mark Difiore – were those he met in the first grade at Monroe Elementary School, and they and the rest of “The Group,” and all of John’s wonderful Harker colleagues, have been his other family.
A memorial will be held at Nichols Hall on the Saratoga campus of The Harker School on Sat., Oct. 10 at 1:30 p.m. The Harker School is at 500 Saratoga Ave., San Jose, 95129. Please RSVP to firstname.lastname@example.org so appropriate parking, seats and refreshments may be prepared. In keeping with John’s wishes and style, this event is casual. Please wear your sports jerseys, Harker T-shirts, etc.
At John’s request, in lieu of flowers donations may be made to any one of the following:
- The John Near Excellence in History Education Endowment Fund (Harker School Advancement Office; 3800 Blackford Ave; SJ 95117; checks to The Harker School, memo line “John Near Endowment Fund”)
- Hospice of the Valley (http://www.hospicevalley.org/giving.html)
- CaringBridge (www.caringbridge.org/visit/johnnear/)
- Silicon Valley Wellness Center (http://www.svwellness.org/).
Those interested in learning more about John’s journey, reading posts or leaving a message for the family are welcome to do so at www.caringbridge.org/visit/johnnear/.