OROVILLE – Lee Root accepted his first teaching job on his twenty-second birthday not realizing it would be a 34 year journey in education, all at Oroville schools.
His journey actually started in a more exotic local – Borneo, in East Malasia where his parents were missionaries. The young Root attended boarding schools in Singapore and returned to the U.S. to attend the University of Puget Sound where in 1974 he earned a degree in English Literature and minors in Education and Psychology.
“Going to school in Singapore was a great way to get a well-rounded education on different people and cultures… it really has paid off my whole career,” said Root.
After graduation from college he interviewed with then Oroville School District Superintendent Dr. Rusty Neff when Root was still 21 years-old.
“He offered me a position on June 30 which was my twenty-second birthday and I thought that was pretty auspicious and I took the job,” Root said.
He began his career teaching eighth-grade and high school English. After 21 years at the high school he started his second phase as an educator at Oroville. He became a sixth-trade teacher at Oroville Elementary.
Root had already volunteered at sixth-grade camp starting in 1980 by helping Jerry Vandiver teach fly-tying, as well as hunter education a couple of times.
“Retiring made me realize that 34 years is a long time… but really it’s a short time. I’m going to miss the kids. One of the hardest things about retirement is that I still love to teach,” said Root.
He went on to say he especially appreciated teaching sixth-grade because it gave him a chance to see his students grow and mature.
“One thing I discovered is that you are teaching a new class every day. You watch the kids mature and make gains. The kids just blossom,” he said.
The retiring teacher said he will also miss his colleagues at the elementary school. “I worked with some really good people,” he said.
His first 10 years at the high school Root served as advisor to the Year Book staff and one year he filled in for Tara Debach as the Athletic Director, two jobs he said he enjoyed very much.
“I sure wish we would have had digital cameras back then, it would have made things much easier. It seems like I spent an awful lot of time in the dark working in the darkroom,” Root said.
The teacher was recently chosen for the Okanogan County Excellence Award from the North Central Washington Educational Services District (ESD). He received his award at a banquet held by the ESD in Okanogan to honor teachers and non-classified staff members. He, along with fellow Oroville co-worker Jan Lilquist, was recognized at the banquet.
Four years ago he and his wife Sue moved to Omak so she could be closer to her job at the Omak campus of Wenatchee Valley College.
In Oroville the Roots lived in a house overlooking the Okanogan River near the Highway 97 bridge just south of town. There they had an orchard that Root ran for many years.
“I miss the view, missed working in the orchard. That was my first retirement, quiting after 23 years of running my orchard… or maybe it ran me… I’m not sure,” he said.
Now that he’s retired from teaching Root says he’ll do the things he always did when not working like hunting, fishing, growing a little garden and addressing the “Sue” list. However, he won’t have much extra time as he was recently hired full time at Career Path Services. The private, non-profit corporation helps find employment for people needing jobs like those on TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families), he said.
“It was a short retirement. I like to say I’m on the ‘Joyce Forthun plan,'” said Root with a laugh, referring to another former Oroville Elementary School teacher who went on to keep busy with several jobs following her retirement.
Root has two sons. Brandon and wife Kelly teach in the Yakima area and Nick works nearby at Brian Nelson’s cattle ranch in the Okanogan Highlands, he said.
“Nick has worked with cattle since the eighth-grade and he loves it,” said Root.
When asked how he feels about starting a new career and not teaching at Oroville anymore, Root said, “I am going to miss living in the area… going to miss coming up to the whole area. It was the only place that I taught school and I felt very connected to it. It was a change I had to make, but it was a very emotional one when I realized I was not going to be back in September.”