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Story Last modified at 10:24 p.m. on Wednesday, April 6, 2011

The guardian of the gym
Mr. B dedication draws full house at Homestead Elementary School

Alaska Star


Homestead principal Barbara Nagengast exits the school's newly dedicated gym. Mr. B taught physical education at Homestead for 27 years.

In a ceremony that was at alternating times funny, tearful and touching, a standing-room-only crowd helped dedicate Homestead Elementary School's gym to its longtime physical education teacher, Jerry Bancroft, on March 30.

It is now called "Mr. B's gym."

Bancroft, known by those who loved him as Mr. B, died in March 2010 after a heart attack. He was 61. He had taught generations of Homestead Huskies since his career at the school began in 1981, and his sudden death shocked the small school of longtime teachers.

At the special dedication, which was a year in the making, school principal Barbara Nagengast characterized Mr. B as a "wonderful teacher, husband, father and grandpa."

He was a jokester, fond of rubber chickens and dressing up in outrageous costumes during school assemblies. As a slide show of his time at Homestead played on the big screen, the children laughed at images of Mr. B: with gray close-cropped hair and wearing a white robe; tossing a rubber chicken into the crowd; doing a strange dance in a skit.

He was that kind of a person, said art teacher Jeanean Allen, who helped organize the dedication. He wanted education to be fun, but he also wanted kids to try their best, all the time.

"As Jerry would always say, 'Just get over it and do it,' " she told the audience. "Mr. B's motto for students was 'Just give it a try.' "

Theresa Bancroft, when it was her turn to speak, told the students – both alumni and present – that her husband treasured his job.

"He loved this school and everyone in it," she said. "I think now he is a guardian angel of Homestead."

After Theresa Bancroft and her family cut the ribbon to the newly named Mr. B's Gym, the children poured in to play, "because that's what Jerry would want us to do," Nagengast said.

Inside the doors, a small wooden plaque in the shape of a hand was mounted above moulding. To the non-Husky observer, it might have gone unnoticed, but the Homestead teachers, parents and students knew that this, too, was a Mr. B remembrance.

"Every kid, as they left the gym, made it their goal to jump as high as they could," Nagengast said, as she looked at the plaque. "That was the one place where they could jump as high as they could and he encouraged it."

Melissa DeVaughn can be reached at

This article published in The Alaska Star on Wednesday, April 6, 2011.