11 retire from Chawanakee

Community CorrespondentJune 10, 2014 

Last week 11 employees of the Chawanakee Unified School District retired, none of whom worked less than 10 years for the district. Combined the retirees have provided more than 200 years of service to children in the North Fork and O'Neals area of Eastern Madera County.

Chawanakee Unified School District Superintendent Bob Nelson commented at a May 31 retirement dinner, that it is a sacred trust to take care of the children, and that the retirees had all given so very much in so many different ways.

In order of years of service to the district, retirees are:

  • Carol Gordon, (10).
  • Martha Robrahn, (11).
  • Sandy Clark, (11).
  • Bill Samuelson, (12).
  • Kathy Alspaw, (15).
  • Mike Morrow, (18).
  • Susie Waltner, (20).
  • Pam Reid, (25).
  • Nancy McPherson, (27).
  • Leda Gonzales, (27).
  • Rodney York, (28).

"There has been a York at North Fork School since gold was discovered," Nelson said. "Following his mother who taught for 30 years, Rodney is the last in this chain."

York has taught many grades, for a number of years at the kindergarten level. He also worked with the Mono, helping implement the Native American education program. One of his final tasks was to help secure preliminary approval of the future Title VII Indian Education grant. This is fitting as he was the person who created the program when there were less than 10 remaining who were fluent in the Mono language. At a high point, the program had 21 employees including eight elders, and received national recognition for its modern approach to an old problem.

For York, the most rewarding part of his teaching career was seeing the growth each individual child makes.

York and his wife, Alice, who just retired from the North Fork Post Office, plan to take to the hills, camping near Jamestown and on the 14,000 foot peaks of the Rockies. Colorado will be an important part of their retirement plans as they won the silent auction Breckenridge package at the recent North Fork Volunteer Fire Department Auxiliary Barbecue. York will also continue his work with goats although his herd is much smaller today.

Leda Gonzales and Nancy McPherson have been with the district since 1986. Gonzales has had a range of jobs, ending as a Special Education Assistant and custodian at North Fork Elementary School.

"I have had a gamut of jobs," she says, commenting that this allowed her to touch the lives of hundreds of students. She said being with the students was the most important and rewarding part of her career.

McPherson, a fourth grade teacher at North Fork Elementary, is looking forward to sleeping in for a few days and helping get her home garden in order. She also wants to revisit drawing and painting which she had to drop many years ago. She also will travel and work with her daughter with RAVS, a non-profit veterinary outreach program that brings veterinary services to underserved rural communities.

Pam Reid is a Special Education Instructional Assistant who is known for being both kind and gentle with the students.

"She is an incredible employee and friend" commented the wife of one of the teachers who had worked with her at North Fork Elementary. She wants to spend time working with her horses as well as some traveling and fixing up her home.

Susie Waltner has been with the district since 1978 when she and husband Doug moved to North Fork from Big Creek. She has been a math and science teacher at North Fork Elementary for the past eight years. She wants to visit the remaining two continents (she has already been to five), specifically going to Antarctica this coming winter.

"It thrills me each time a student I have worked with returns to visit and tells me their accomplishments and plans, knowing I had a little part in their success."

Mike Morrow has been a transportation mechanic for the district for 18 years.

"The California Highway Patrol checks our bus fleet annually," he says, saying they have told him Chawanakee has one of the finest fleets in the Mountain Area. Morrow moved to the area as a child, ultimately graduating from Sierra High School. He was a logger for 22 years before this new career, and was named Champion Logger at the 1998 Loggers Jamboree. He also has won the Pro/Am at that event, five times. He speaks fondly of the "great people" he has worked with along the way.

Kathy Alspaw has been a custodian at Spring Valley Elementary School for 15 years, many times working all by herself. Staff at Spring Valley say she is a go-getter who willingly does anything that is needed, and she will be missed. They also say she is the best at her job and yet is very friendly to all.

Bill Samuelson is the music director for the district, serving both Minarets High School and North Fork Elementary. As such he has fostered a love of music in his students who eagerly participate in the music culture both here in Eastern Madera County and up and down the state.

His Minarets marching band won first place last year at the 35th Annual Marching Band Review in Pismo Beach and in March of this year, played at Disneyland. Percussion played at the Fresno State Day of Percussion, and the jazz band has entertained at various community events. According to his Mustang staff profile page, his biggest honor is having students who have gone on to be worship leaders, music teachers and lifelong musicians.

Sandy Clark has been a school bus driver and custodian at North Fork School for 11 years. She says the most fun she had was when she was able to drive one of the Chawanakee buses filled with children during a 4th of July parade. She got to honk a very loud horn which was such fun for her and the children. In her retirement she is looking forward to spending more time working at the Sierra Mono Museum. She is very involved in the preservation of the Mono language and has become a respected basket weaver, an intricate process for which the Mono are highly respected.

Martha Robrahn has worked for 11 years as the Information Technology Specialist for the district. Her computer passion started in the late 1960s when punch cards were used to put data into computers. She is looking forward to the alarm not going off at 5:30 a.m., and wants to travel, play bridge and do more volunteer work.

Carol Gordon taught art at Minarets and was able to inspire students to produce original works of art with a variety of processes and skills in many media. Her instructional profile speaks to everything from watercolor and pointillism to paper mache, ink drawing, jewelry and masks. Rounding out the actual expression of art, she instilled art history, vocabulary and techniques. Her students have displayed at the Madera County Fair and have participated in various on-line art contests.

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