Cheryl Marsh, who died on March 12, 2015. Photo: courtesy family

Cheryl Marsh, for 31 years a speech therapist and teacher for Berkeley Unified School District where she created and ran a model special education program for children with severe communication disabilities, died peacefully at her home in Berkeley on March 12.

Cheryl, who retired in 2012, was 68.

With her son, Evan Marsh, her sister, Gail Craver of Syracuse, New York, and life partner Don Klose at her bedside, she died after battling advanced ovarian cancer for two and a half years.

A former special education colleague at Cragmont Elementary, expressing widespread sentiment, said this of her passing.

“Such a hard road to walk for one so special and part of our shared landscape in special ed for all these decades. Not a hyperbole to say that a Titan – in presence, spirit, compassion, to say nothing of expertise and just plain a helluva lot of fun – has left. Cheryl – such a gift. Peace.”

A memorial celebration of her life and work are being planned for mid-May.

Born Cheryl Anne Baranello on Sept. 9, 1946 in Syracuse, New York, she attended Convent High School in Syracuse and the University of Buffalo where she obtained a bachelors degree in speech therapy.

In 1968 she moved to the Bay Area where she went to work at the Berkeley district for six years as a speech therapist while she attended graduate school and obtained a teaching credential at San Francisco State University.

After several years living in Arcata in Humboldt County and in upstate New York, she returned to California and Berkeley and the school district in 1987 as a special education teacher. She founded a new special day class for communicatively handicapped children and ran the program for 19 years at Cragmont Elementary.

“This was a classroom that served kids with a wide range of severe disabilities. It was regarded as a model program for these challenged children,” said Klose who also worked at the school as a school psychologist.

“The program offered a language enriched curriculum and Cheryl brought her vibrant personality to it,” he said. “It was always a joyous kind of place. What she really enjoyed doing was helping challenged children learn to read. That was her special passion.”

Klose said that toward the end of her teaching career Cheryl transformed the program into what became known as the Learning Center and a model guiding the evolution of programs for special needs children throughout the Berkeley school system.

Cheryl captivated family, close friends and co-workers alike with her quick wit, vivacity, generosity, and expansive spirit, and these traits informed her relationships with students as well. During her years at Cragmont, she was highly regarded as a mentor by her colleagues and assumed both informal and formal leadership roles, such as Lead Teacher and Berkeley Federation of Teachers site rep. Cheryl was valued by peers and her students’ parents for her intelligent and insightful understanding of her students and her creative ideas and inventive strategies for helping them. She was known and loved by many students, even many whom she had not worked with directly. When asked why so many students loved her, Klose recalled, she replied, “Because they know I love them.”

During her final five years at the district Cheryl left the classroom to engage children in smaller speech-therapy groups.

Through her life Cheryl was an avid gardener and enjoyed creating ideas for interior design and cooking phenomenal meals. “Had she not been a teacher she said she would have loved to have become an architect,” Klose said.

Her son Evan describes her as an “incredible mom,” unwavering in her devotion, support, and encouragement for her sons to pursue their dreams.

She vacationed annually at her family’s summer home on a spit of land between Lake Ontario and Salmon River in Pulaski, New York.

In addition to her son Evan, sister Gail, brother-in-law Dan Craver, and partner Klose, she is survived by her eldest son Adam Marsh and his wife, Preetie Marsh, numerous nieces, nephews and cousins, including nephew Scott Spiess of Arlington, Texas and niece Lauren Marsh, of Miami Beach, Florida., and her closest friend and colleague, Louise Fender, of Point Richmond.

A time and place for Cheryl’s memorial celebration will be announced later. Services were provided by Pacific Interment Service of Emeryville.

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