Del Norte People: The great educators along the way

By Chuck Blackburn July 17, 2013 06:39 pm

Longtime Del Norte County resident Chuck Blackburn’s column appears monthly.

Recently we watched as the media covered the tragic tornadoes in the Midwest. The F-5 that hit Moore, Okla., was particularly devastating as it hit two schools. The heroism of the educators in helping save many kids’ lives brought back some memories of times past in my teaching career in Del Norte County.

I was a young teacher in October 1962 and a tremendous storm struck the Pacific Northwest and Del Norte County. Wind was the main culprit and 100-mph gusts were reported. I watched from the door of the gym at Redwood School and close to noon a wind gust hit and a TV antenna on a house next door bent over double.

A decision was made to load up the buses and try to get these kids home during a slight break in the storm, but 15 minutes later, they all returned as all roads were blocked by downed trees. Communications went out to parents to pick up their kids whenever possible. We kept kids in the classrooms and I took many into the gym. We had activities to try to keep them calm and happy. Our last kids were not picked up until 6 p.m.

That proved to me as a young teacher that we had quite a responsibility to our families and kids that went far above teaching the three “Rs.”

My memories of 33 years of teaching and coaching are still so vivid in my mind of so many events, so many experiences, so many kids and parents, and so many memories of fine educators that I was blessed to share teaching experiences. I retired in June 1994, the same year that my wife Missy and I were married on July 23 on our gazebo overlooking the South Fork.

My relationships did not end after I retired as I was still “Voice of the Del Norte High Warriors,” over KPOD radio. The excitement and electricity on the football field and gym and the adrenalin flow when I had the microphone in front of me was a godsend for my spirit of life. The fans, the coaches and even the referees made this a total package.

Family over golf

I have to reflect back to June 1961 when I earned my teaching credential after graduating with a B.A. degree in 1960. My good friend and golfing pal, Ed Goodwin, a prominent attorney, offered to send and back me on the professional golf tour. Wow, could this be?

I went home that afternoon to be with my wife Dort, our two kids Charlene, 2, and Danny, 1. Dort was pregnant with our third daughter, Lynn. I looked at our young family and realized that I could not leave to hit the golfing circuit. I thanked Ed the next day for his kindness.

My choice was to be a teacher and coach, and I received a call from Ben Beasley, a member of the Board of Trustees of Redwood School in Fort Dick. Ben owned Fort Dick Market, now run by Clyde Eller. Ben needed a physical education teacher and coach. I was excited about the offer and drove up the next day and signed a $5,000-a-year contract for teaching and $300 for coaching three sports. Wow, I was pumped. I was now a teacher.

All the school districts were independent in those days until unification in the mid-’60s. Bob Laubscher was the superintendent and what really was the principal. They were good administrators and I played golf occasionally with Bob. Two colleagues at Redwood were George Olson and icon Lew Goodgame. Both were fine educators and Lew spearheaded the drive for the new gym at Redwood.

Learning from the best

I taught at Redwood for five years and an opportunity came up to move to Crescent Elk as Larry Amos moved to Del Norte High as athletic director and chair of the P.E. department. Larry and I were great friends and I was honored to carry on with many of his fine programs and add a few new wrinkles of my own. Ten years later in 1976 I would join Larry in the P.E. department at Del Norte High.

During my 10 years at Crescent Elk I first worked under Clyde Boatman, a fine long-time administrator. After Clyde retired, Don Biggers became principal.

Don was a previous basketball coach and he and I partnered with the idea of a Crescent Elk basketball tournament in March of each year. We went to the Crescent City Jaycees and they agreed to help sponsor the events.

The first two years it was an eight-team tourney and then expanded to 16 teams to competefor another period of time as Armand Gunnerson spearheaded the tremendous Jaycees’ effort to welcome 56 teams to compete. What a great group of people. Our 1973 and 1974 eighth-grade teams won the Jaycees, which made me very proud of our basketball family.

Team teaching was the system for seventh- and eighth-graders at Crescent Elk. Team A was headed up by Bill Maffett with Darrell Spurgur, Ruth Sveum and Jurgen Nowak contributing to the core subject team effort. Team B was headed up by Wayne Bricco with Brian Potter, Lorraine Nicholson, Carol Nichols and then Stan Jones came in to complete the team. Team C was led by Ed Anderson with Ted Weber, Harold Martin and Linda Johnson contributing to the group.

There was good communication and camaraderie in these team teaching partnerships. P.E., band and shop were taught outside the team system, but molded into a totally successful overall program. Ed and Team C included me in their Modoc trips each May for three years. It proved to be an invaluable experience for the students, but also for the teachers and chaperones.

I still remember video-taping Ed Anderson playing the role of Scarface Charley, an Indian subchief of Modoc descent. It was really 1873 in my mind as he talked to the group in a haunting wind at the Thomas-Wright Battlefield.

Another event that lights up my memories was on two different trips. Harold Martin captured two rattlesnakes and bled their venom in a cup in front of the students and only two feet away from my video camera. Folks, that’s real education by down-to-earth teachers.

His coaching chops

I had the privilege of teaching and coaching for Del Norte High School, golf coach for 18 years, four years as JV basketball coach and four years as varsity girls coach. I joined Larry Amos in the P.E. department for eight years. Again, I worked with some real pro educators and coaches. I coached J.V. basketball under Dale Thomas as varsity coach, but was surrounded by folks like wonderful Wally Maciel, wrestling coach Ron Kunstal and assistants Darwin Schager, Jerry Smith, Louis Nova, Blaine Lopez and Kirk Burrows. Mike and Doris Whalen were icons at Del Norte High School with Doris teaching for 50 years. There are any number of other teachers that I could mention.

I returned to Crescent Elk for my last 10 years. I was proud to retire after 33 years in 1994.

I am sad to close with the news that Harold Martin passed away recently. I always considered Harold as the cowboy of the staff. Harold was like a drill sergeant with the kids, but had a heart of gold in working with them. 

I still picture him on a lava nodule at Captain Jack’s stronghold teaching the kids about location of the sun and the time of day. He stated, “It’s 2 p.m. in the afternoon so which way is east?” Hands pointed everywhere. He said, “Dog-gone kids, you don’t know anything,” and then told them more information. Again, which way is east? He followed that with a smile as most of the hand were pointed east.

Farewell, good friend. I’ll meet you at the knob in Modoc and our prayers are with you, Pat Martin.