Our beloved Janel Lynn Akiyama Meehan left us due to natural causes in the early morning hours of August 26th while walking her dog, Gemma, in her Serra Mesa neighborhood.
Janel loved God, she loved her students, she loved her friends, but most of all, Janel loved her family. In the words of a close friend, “She was a freakin’ awesome Mom!” to Bobby and Michael.
For those who wish to make a donation in Janel’s memory, a fund has been established to help cover future education costs for her sons. To make a donation, please go to: https://gofund.me/64e8cdd4.
Janel was born on July 23, 1975 in San Diego as the middle child to parents of Chinese, Japanese and Hawaiian descent. She grew up in Paradise Hills and attended Perry Elementary School. She began as a competitive swimmer at age six and continued competing in the breaststroke and distance swimming straight through high school. Her community service passion started here while helping to run the snack bar with her Mom, sisters and best friend.
In 1987, Janel began attending Memorial Jr. High School where she met Pam George who would become her lifelong BFF. The two were inseparable and shared a love of adventure combined with an obsessive desire to be Straight A students. When this desire appeared to be at risk as they both struggled in math, they were fortunate to meet Mr. Droge, a committed and passionate math teacher who took them under his wing and challenged them to get their prized A’s. When the challenge was met, he rewarded them with a ride in his red Camaro convertible. It was this experience that 7irst helped Janel to realize the incredible difference teachers could make in the lives of their students. Sadly, Mr. Droge died of cancer a few years later, but Pam is happy to think about Janel and Mr. Droge back together again, riding in that red Camaro with the top down!
Janel graduated from San Diego High School International al Baccalaureate program in 1993 where she developed her love of books and reading and where she made the commitment to become an English teacher. Her English teacher, Mrs. Wrobleski, had a profound impact on her that would shape her career. She graduated from Western Washington University in Bellingham, Washington in 1997. Upon graduation she took a summer trip to Greece and later visited Japan.
In 2000, she returned to San Diego where she began her lifelong career as a 7th grade English Teacher at Monroe Clark Middle School, teaching for more than two decades. Janel became head of the Clark English Department in 2017 and was named the school’s Teacher of the Year in 2018. Janel believed that teaching was more than a job; it was a divine vocation and she felt it was her calling to inspire her students to dream further than high school. She demonstrated unwavering support for students struggling with mental health issues and strongly supported the counseling team in their efforts to create a safe space for students seeking help. She also recognized the importance of life skills, making sure that the education she provided her students included the skills they needed to succeed in life.
She was a strong community advocate and worked hard to demystify the role of the police in the lives of young people and to foster positive relationships between students and the school police. She also started the Clark Middle School World Changers group that encouraged students to make a difference in their communities and their world. Janel organized Clark Care Bags designed to help students struggling with anxiety, depression or other social and emotional needs. These bags, that were particularly helpful during the pandemic, included uplifting notes, chocolates, journals, tissues, plush bears and “Jesus Loves YOU” wristbands. These bags gave students a reminder that they were not alone in their journey.
Janel married Bob Meehan in 2007 and gave birth to her two beautiful boys, Bobby in 2009 and Michael in 2012. Raising her boys with love, kindness and respect was her top priority in life. She often talked about her desire to raise her boys to be wonderful, capable and compassionate young men and taught them to become self-sufficient and financially responsible at an early age.
The family loved to spend time together in the great outdoors and spent many memorable days hiking and camping. In actuality, Janel only tolerated camping and did so because she knew Bob, Bobby and Michael loved it. (She understood the male fascination of being able to pee in the bushes when camping.)
Her toleration for camping came to an abrupt end in August of 2019, during an infamous camping trip to Lake Mary Campground in the Eastern Sierras. At about 9 pm, while Bob and the boys went to the public bathroom to brush their teeth, Janel was sitting alone by the campfire when a very large bear suddenly appeared out of the darkness and came within five feet of her, standing on the other side of the fire. Janel and the bear made eye contact for a few awkward and terrifying seconds, then the Bear turned and went on his way. The Meehan family would come to find out the next morning from the camp host that the bear Janel encountered was actually very well known to the Lake Mary Campground area ... and is affectionately known as Henry. Apparently Henry is just a big old, dopey and totally harmless, 400-pound California Black Bear who goes on a nightly stroll through the campground, hoping to find a midnight snack. After the Henry the Bear camping trip incident, Janel immediately instituted a very strict Rental Cabins/ Houses/Hotels Only policy for all future Meehan family vacations.
During the peak of the Covid Pandemic, in August 2020, Janel found a house to rent out in the Palm Springs area that had a great pool play area .... of course the boys just loved it. In August of 2021, Janel and her family rented a lakefront cabin in Pine Mountain Lake that was near Yosemite National Park. They spent a wonderful week with their friends Deanna and Rori, exploring Yosemite National Park, while enjoying swimming, kayaking, stand-up paddle boarding on Pine Mountain Lake and evening game nights. Many great memories and pictures were created. Janel and the family also stayed at Great Wolf Lodge Water Park in March of 2022 and visited the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library.
This past spring, Janel and the boys spent a week at the Padres Spring Training Camp by renting a house with an amazing swimming pool in Peoria, AZ. Janel had recently become a BIG Padres fan, with a particular affection for Ha-Seong Kim. She loved taking the boys to the games at Petco and the fireplace mantle of the family's Amulet house became a central display area of Padres Bobble-Heads and other memorabilia collected from the many Padres games they attended in 2022 and 2023.
In 2022, as the United States and the rest of the world slowly came out of the COVID Pandemic lockdowns, Janel wanted to get out and enjoy the world again. So she began participating in unique adventures that she had never done before. These included swimming with Leopard Sharks in La Jolla Cove, riding in a hot air balloon, being an extra (along with Bobby and Michael) in a movie called "Miracle At Manchester,” going jet skiing, learning salsa dancing, taking up martial arts, milking a cow, and volunteering with the police in community outreach activities. Her friends and family enjoyed the many pictures she shared of these memorable adventures.
Janel had a strong Christian faith that served as an important guidepost in her life. In more recent years, she discovered a talent and passion for painting and many of her beautiful and haunting landscapes were displayed proudly in her classroom and her home. She also loved baking, particularly cookies, and she hosted an annual Cookie Exchange Party that was one of the highlights of the holiday season for her friends and neighbors. Janel’s smile would light up a room. All who knew her were inspired by her passion for the community (especially City Heights), her strength of character and her abiding faith.
Janel is survived by her husband Bob; children Bobby and Michael; step-children Shannon, Jessica and Kevin; sisters Lisa and Gail Akiyama, dog Gemma (aka Liberty); sister-in-law Mary; best friend Pam; and a host of devoted friends, coworkers, parents and students. She was predeceased by her parents, Jack and Patricia Akiyama, her beloved son, Andrew, from her first marriage (who died at birth), and her faithful dog, Greta.