INDEPENDENCE, Mo. — A beloved drama teacher from Fort Osage High School died from COVID-19 Wednesday. Jeannie Hutter, 57, was known by her students simply as “J”. Hutter was fully vaccinated but had a rare auto immune disease.
J led the Fort Osage drama department for more than a decade and directed 75 productions in her time. She did it with her identical twin sister Tommie Hutter, known as “T” by her side. Her sister said she is most likely up in heaven already directing her first production.
Drama teachers are unique people and have to have a passion for what they do. To J’s students at Fort Osage she was a shooting star in their lives.
“She was amazing,” senior and drama club president, Grant McDaniel said.
“There was nothing she wouldn’t do for us,” senior and Hutter’s teacher’s assistant, Lillian Templeton said.
J & T did most everything together. They ran the drama department side by side. J directed the productions and T designed all the sets. J helped students on the stage and T made sure their spotlights were on point.
“To be honest it’s like having your best friend everywhere. We shared everything,” Tommie said.
They grew up together. Went to college together. Lived and worked together. Their sister, Tammie Caley said helping kids is their passion in life.
“She loved it because she wanted to be an inspiration for people, and the kids before they went out in the real world,” Caley said.
One thing they didn’t share was an auto immune disease.
“It was hard for people because they don’t realize she was sick,” Tommie said. “What they don’t realize is she uses all her energy at school. She gives everything to her program.”
J struggled with granulomatosis with polyangiitis. It’s an uncommon autoimmune disorder causing inflammation of blood vessels in the nose, sinuses, throat, lungs, and kidneys. Formerly called Wegener’s granulomatosis, this condition causes decreased blood flow to various organs. With her long-time diagnosis the pandemic became a scary time.
“We knew that she was at risk so we did the vaccines, we did the booster, we wore the masks, we did everything we were supposed to but we always knew there was a chance of a breakout case for her,” Tommie said.
Her breakout came on December 5 and on Christmas Day she was placed on a ventilator.
“She just didn’t have the strength,” Tommie said. “The question was: was I going to get my selfish wish and he heal her here or was he going to take her home? And he chose to take her home. A big part of me is missing.”
Jeannie died one month after her diagnosis.
“She made everyone better. Everyone better and everyone loved her. She fought until the very end,” Tommie said.
She says J’s favorite show was Wicked. They were planning to see it here in Kansas City this month at the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts. It’s the origin story of the Wicked Witch of the West from the Wizard of Oz. It deals with learning to be kind, accepting change, and finding strength in friends. All things J taught her students about.
“She has really helped me figure out me as a person and what I want to do in the future,” senior Taylor White said.
“I want to be there for people the way she was there for me,” McDaniel said.
Because they knew her — they were changed for good.
Before Hutter passed away she cast the final production she worked on of Our Town. Tommie plans to see the school year out and finish the play.
A Gofundme was set up in hopes of Jeannie’s recovery. It will now be used to help fund the Jeannie Hutter Scholarship Fund at Fort Osage High School.
Family, friends, colleagues, and students are putting together a celebration of life for J. Next weekend they plan to come together and sing her favorite songs and remember everything she taught them.
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