Jan Crites’ goal during her 33 years at Fontbonne was to help create another generation of compassionate professionals who help people improve their lives. Although she admits initially stepping down as chair and eventually retiring from the Human Environmental Sciences (HES) department last year was difficult, Crites is proud of her work with students and colleagues and is happy to report she’s staying busy and enjoying the next phase of her life.
“I hope that I made a contribution by enabling young women and men to see themselves as worthwhile, independent and thoughtful people who can manage their lives in a complex world and make contributions to their communities,” Crites says. She taught classes on everything from family economics to the history of costumes for the HES department, which houses the major’s fashion merchandising, dietetics, family and consumer science (FACS), and early childhood. “I’ve always wanted my students to step outside of themselves and see why people in other situations do what they do. I wanted them to look more deeply into the meaning of things.”
Crites has always had an interest in the social and political atmosphere surrounding her. Born in a small town just outside of Cape Girardeau, Mo., where most people either farmed or worked at the local shoe factory, Crites’ mother attended college and her father was part-owner of the town Texaco station. “My parents just expected my sister and I to go to college because they understood the value of an education,” she says. “In those days in rural communities, women’s career choices were to get married or work as a secretary, nurse, teacher or factory worker.”
She attended Southeast Missouri State and majored in home economics education with plans to teach. By the late 1960s, Crites earned a master’s in home economics with an emphasis in family economics and management from the University of Missouri-Columbia.
“Women’s roles were changing quickly then. They were adding roles as working professionals, but still raising families. I have always been interested in policy regarding the well being of women and children and the circumstances in which they find themselves,” she explains.
Crites taught at the high school level for 11 years before coming to Fontbonne in 1972 to teach what was then know as clothing and textiles. “At that time some of the curriculum was technically oriented, which actually was a great way to teach problem solving,” says Crites, who described herself as an idealistic young instructor.
By the late 1970s, Crites became program director for FACS after it was first approved for certification by the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. She then chaired the department (a position previously held by Sr. Mary Carol Anth, CSJ) for 13 years, during which time many changes occurred, including a name change from home economics to human environmental sciences and the addition of the graduate program in FACS.
“I loved the opportunities that Fontbonne offered and I loved engaging with my students, colleagues and administrators; we really functioned as a community, especially during my earlier years at the university,” Crites says.
Now retired, Crites has a new outlet for teaching — as a real estate associate/broker.
“I work with clients across the life cycle and I particularly like to work with both younger and older people, either educating them on how to purchase their first house or how to protect themselves when selling their last house,” Crites says. “My work now is an extension of my
academic life and the complimentarily of the two is great fun.”
She has kept her idealistic ways and has a keen interest in urban development and being active in her Central West End neighborhood and St. Louis city. Even in retirement, Crites is active doing what she loves — helping people be their best.