By Tim Hunt
Saluting an influential teacherUploaded: Jun 12, 2013
Former students of retired Amador Valley High Spanish teacher Bob Athenour gathered for a mini-reunion Wednesday in Pleasanton.
Athenour, well-known in Pleasanton for both his teaching expertise and as the father of the Tulancingo (Mexico) Sister City program, had a major impact on students he taught from the 1950s to his retirement in 1985. When he retired, he moved directly into the travel business where he worked for many years including establishing the sister city program that recently celebrated its 30th anniversary.
What was striking for these former students, who were taught by Athenour in the late 1960s and early 1970s, was the influence he had had on them which endures to this day. I got to tag along because my wife, Betty Gail, helped organize the luncheon with her lifelong friend Nancy Pearson Vonhandel at her mother Gladys Pearson's Pleasanton home. The Mexican food was appropriate as were the seasonal feast of stone fruit and berries. It was appropriate to honor Bob for both his past achievements and contributions as well as celebrate his recent 84th birthday.
Betty Gail related that of the 17 students in her 4th year Spanish class with Bob, 11 went on to teach some aspect of languages. Also present Wednesday were Nancy's sister Marjorie, Betty Gail's sister, Sally Mote Yaffe, both of whom used their Spanish while foreign exchange students in South America.
Joining them were Sue Augusta Kirk, down from Ripon, and Mary Lynn Gill-Morgan, who taught bi-lingual English-Spanish classes in the Los Angeles area before moving to the Placerville area to teach high school Spanish for the last 15 years. From a slightly younger generation came Elaine Albertson Washington, who graduated from Amador the year that Senor Athenour retired in 1985
Nancy taught Spanish in New Jersey until retiring last year, while Betty Gail taught German at Amador Valley until that program ended two years ago.
I know Bob through his travel agent work and his community involvement after he retired from teaching. We both were Rotarians for many years and have a favorite coffee hangout at the Rising Loafer downtown (although I have more than one favorite non-chain coffee shops).
Thinking back to my high school days, I recalled thankfully the teachers who had some positive effects in guiding me into what became a lifetime career of writingEnglish teachers Rich Del Tredici (who still lives in town) and R.B. Stickel (who I recall only spent one year at Amador) and journalism/yearbook instructor Catherine Meibert, a professional journalist who came into the classroom, again for just one year at Amador. She was the critical influence in starting to equip me and encourage me in this endeavor.
Wednesday's luncheon provided a wonderful opportunity for these ladies, 40 or so years later, to tell Bob how his class and his instruction had shaped their lives. He inspired the travel bug in many. He served as a model for instruction. The group learned that his mother tongue was French and he learned Spanish in high school at Amador from Helen Vardon, for whom the school's highest honor given to a graduating senior is named. He later studied at San Jose State and spent a period of time with a family in Saltillo, Mexico.
Incidentally, he and his wife, Marilyn, have lived in the same home across from Amador for more than 50 years. That is not unusual for that early Pleasanton subdivision.