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Petaluma’s Ron Frank looks back on career as teacher

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September 1962 was a good time to be in Petaluma, a city of 15,000, presided over by Mayor Everett A. Matzen. Plans called for a new shopping center at the corner of West Payran Street and Petaluma Boulevard North, a bond proposal for a new library was being discussed, raisin snails were on sale at U.S. Bakery (six for 69 cents), and Petaluma schools had record attendance, with 5,458 students enrolled in the two high schools (PHS & SV), two junior highs and six elementary schools.

That was the month Ron Frank accepted the teaching job he’d been looking for, in a thriving community with top notch schools, where he and his wife, Elaine, could live and teach. He joined the 29-member Petaluma Junior High School faculty as the new school — which had opened the previous January after sharing Kenilworth Junior High for nearly three years of double sessions — began its first full academic year with 774 students.

Elaine Frank taught kindergarten at Two Rock School. She retired from teaching when their children, Khris, Karl and Eric, were born. Ron Frank taught history and science at the junior high for 17 years before moving to Petaluma High in 1979, where he taught history and government and coached the girls’ swim team for five years, including its North Bay League championship season of 1983.

He retired from full-time teaching in 1997, after 38 years, 35 of them in Petaluma, but continued on as a substitute.

“I think the good teachers are naturals, it’s something you have in you,” said 83-year-old Frank. “You either have the ability to relate to the students or you don’t. Going into teaching was the best thing I ever did. I made my mark there.”

A first-generation American whose parents, Emil and Hannah Frank, emigrated from Germany, Frank was an only child raised in a German-speaking household. His parents operated a bakery, an occupation that didn’t appeal to him.

He wanted to be a teacher.

Living on the Peninsula, Frank graduated from Menlo-Atherton High School in 1953 before enrolling at San Jose State, where he and Elaine met. He graduated with a teaching credential in 1959. At Petaluma Junior High, originally seventh, eighth and ninth grades, he joined a dedicated group of teachers.

“We were one of the best schools in Petaluma, a group of like-minded teachers who strived to get everyone to do well,” said Frank. “We were proud of being a really good school.”

Looking for a change of pace, he switched over to Petaluma High, which was within walking distance of the home he and his wife bought from real estate agent August Lepori in 1962, for $17,000.

“After many years at the junior high, I wanted to try teaching high school,” explained Frank. “Junior high kids have more emotional stages and mood swings. They’ll really try to please you. In high school, they’ll ask why? I liked teaching both junior and senior high school. It was two different levels. If I was a high school principal I’d prefer that my teachers had taught at the junior high level first.”

During summer vacations, Frank, an excellent trout fisherman, began hiking and packing to Sierra lakes on horseback, seeking that trophy catch. For more than 30 years, he and his family spent summers tent camping at Eagle Lake, where his son Karl holds the family record with a 25-inch trout.

A widower since 2014, Frank meets for coffee with retired teachers and friends, most of them widowers, every Saturday at Keny’s Donuts.

“What we really have in common is our love of teaching,” said Frank. “It was work, but I didn’t see it that way. I looked forward to it. Every day was different. I got into teaching because I felt I could do a good job. I loved teaching. I picked the right profession.”

(Harlan Osborne’s column ‘Toolin’ Around Town’ appears every two weeks. Contact him at harlan@sonic.net)