Published: Oct. 26, 2022 By

Image of Barbara Jean standing next to sports car coupe
It was a classic case of “who’s that girl?”

Al Grimm impatiently waited for Barbara Jean to end her phone call when he first spotted her at a party in 1963. Transfixed, he had to meet her. Even though that call had been with her long-distance boyfriend, Barbara Jean spent that evening talking with Al. They marveled at everything they had in common—their love of cars, auto racing and jazz. They married a year later. “We fell in love the first night, and we continued to enjoy life together for 55 years. It was a special deal,” he said.

In those early years, Al admired Barbara Jean’s work as a teacher in Denver. While teaching first and second grade, Barbara Jean became concerned about learning difficulties for some children, and her desire to help led her to CU Boulder’s master’s program in special education.

As a teacher, she was so aware that some children weren’t learning, and she was struggling with how to help them learn,” Al said. “She came to me and said ‘I want to go to school next year, and I want to go to Boulder.’ I said ‘great,’ because I was still going to CU Boulder.”

Al has fond memories of attending CU Boulder together while Barbara Jean worked on her graduate studies and he finished his bachelor’s degree while balancing a full-time job and budding business career. The Colorado Daily student newspaper wrote a love story about how the young couple often met on the staircase in between their respective education and marketing classes and attended the 1969 Commencement ceremony together—just on different sides of the stadium.

“It was supposed to be an article all about Barbara Jean, because she was in special education, that was on the leading edge of special ed at the time,” he said. “She started telling them about me, and that brought me into the picture. But it should have been all about B.J. (Barbara Jean).”

After graduation, Barbara Jean returned to teaching in Denver Public Schools, where she operated an innovative mobile van equipped with five desks that allowed her to travel and teach elementary students with learning disabilities throughout the district. She later returned to the classroom setting and worked with the state legislature to define special education to better serve students.

“She was passionate about it and wanted to help these children,” Al said. “They meant a lot to her.”

Al’s successful career took them to California, where they spent their most recent decades. Even though they experienced financial hardships—including losing nearly all their savings in the 1980s—their relationship and optimism remained strong. They rebuilt their lives and have been able to give back to the institutions that have meant a lot to them.

Photo of Barbara Jean

Though Barbara Jean did not teach in California, she was always an educator, and that’s why Al has established the new B.J. Grimm Classroom, part of the School of Education’s newly renovated building and fundraising initiative.

“She was a compassionate lady who loved children,” he said. “We were never in an environment where she wasn’t the center of attention if there were children around. She just drew them in.”

After Barbara Jean's death in 2019, Al wanted the world to know about her lasting impact on education. Her legacy as a compassionate educator on the vanguard of what’s important and inclusive in education serves as an inspiration for many future educators who will expand their worldviews within the walls of the B.J. Grimm Classroom. For Al, this classroom is finally all about Barbara Jean.

“First and foremost, she was a teacher,” he said. “She wanted everyone to learn. . . . I just envisioned the ‘Barbara Jean classroom,’ and I liked that. It’s from the heart.”