Obituary: Debbie Jirak / Lead exciting life of travel and adventure
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Years ago, Debbie Jirak of Crafton received a phone call from her daughter's preschool teacher who said Deana had a vivid imagination as evidenced by her story about the family's trip to the Great Wall of China.
Mrs. Jirak was bemused. Yes, she responded, Deana did have a great imagination but the story was no flight of fancy -- the family had, indeed, been to the Great Wall the preceding year.
And they had been to numerous other places around the globe. Mrs. Jirak and her husband, Ivan, both former educators, saw the world as a classroom for themselves, their children, Deana and Jonathan, and those who booked off-the-beaten-path tours with their travel agency, Economic Adventures Tours Inc., in Crafton.
Mrs. Jirak, 61, who died of cancer Thursday in Ohio Valley Hospital, spent her life teaching, traveling and experiencing life to its fullest, such as leading expeditions with her husband to view waterfalls in South America or plowing through remote sections of northern Canada on snowmobiles.
Indeed, on her most recent birthday, Dec. 4, her husband gave her a present with a note that read, "To a very full and exciting life."
"And that's what we had," Mr. Jirak recalled. "I can best describe her, with all due love, as a very feisty female. She had a lot of courage. She was a lovely, intelligent adventurer."
Deana Jirak and her brother, Jonathan Jirak, both of New York City, said their mother's exciting life of travel and adventure was grounded by devotion to family, friends, spirituality and helping others.
Mrs. Jirak's sister, Judy Sandra of Los Angeles, agreed: "She was a wonderful, giving person who couldn't do enough for people. She never thought of herself, she thought of other people ... even when she was suffering herself."
After graduating from Temple University with a degree in Spanish, Mrs. Jirak became one of America's first Peace Corps volunteers, working in a village in the Andes in Venezuela for two years. Returning to the United States, she earned her master's degree at Duquesne University and taught Spanish in a number of Pittsburgh Public Schools.
That's where she met her husband, likewise a teacher and eventually a vice principal. The couple helped finance their 1981 honeymoon in the Galapagos Islands by arranging a tour group of 34 friends. That led them to start their own travel company.
In a 1995 Pittsburgh Post-Gazette story on the agency, Mrs. Jirak said, "Adventure should not be reserved for the advantaged, nor should world travel be exclusively for the wealthy."
Mrs. Jirak and her husband were sensitive to the various cultures they visited with their tours, holding several orientation sessions before trips to familiarize travelers with their destinations.
"We find that people appreciate a trip more when they know what to expect and they become sensitive to the particular culture being visited," Mrs. Jirak said in the article.
The couple visited the Galapagos numerous times and also traveled to China, Russia, Australia, New Zealand, Tahiti, Germany and the Arctic, among other locations. Mrs. Jirak would document their trips through photographs and writings.
The Jiraks also hosted Mexican, Japanese and Inuit exchange students.
In addition to her husband, daughter, son and sister, Mrs. Jirak is survived by her parents, Sara and Herman Adelman of Clearwater, Fla., and a brother, Robert P. Adelman of Oxford, Chester County.
Friends will be received today from 2 to 4 and 7 to 9 p.m. at the Schepner-McDermott Funeral Home, Crafton. A funeral service will be held tomorrow at 11 a.m. in St. Matthew Evangelical Lutheran Church, 45 E. Steuben St., Crafton.
First Published January 14, 2007 12:00 am