Legendary Vaughn Elementary teacher is retiring


Hugh McMillan

During a class session in which Vaughn Elementary teacher Ernie Donehower wrote students' names in Hawaiian on items. Here the Ryan Smith first placed a straw hat on his teacher's head, then posed with his just-signed name piece in Hawaiian. Donehower is retiring from his position. Photo Hugh McMillan, KP News

Vaughn Elementary School teacher Ernie Donehower retires this year. But "Mr. D," as he is known, plans to volunteer in area schools thereafter.

School Principal Susan O’Leary speaks very highly of the educator.

“Mr. D is a historical figure on the Key. His impact, the significance of his work for this community reaches far beyond our small part of the world. His retirement will leave a hole in our school and our hearts and he will be greatly missed. We are grateful he will continue to volunteer and wish him the best in this next chapter of his life,” O’Leary said.

Donehower said that he’s comfortable talking to kids from elementary level through college , and mentioned that he has been doing “a lot of presentations over the years around the region."

He has teamed with other Vaughn teachers like Doug Smith helping his kids blast off rockets each year. When PE teacher Marc Ross got his kids to win State Championships, Donehower had helped. Ross reciprocated as Donehower staged Native American games and studies.

“I do a lot of storytelling, folk art craft projects, have discussions on geography and culture, examine artifacts, listen to music and language, play games, or perhaps even sing and dance,” said Donehower. “Sometimes I show a video clip to help with understanding. I prefer to immerse the little guys in a particular culture or region, past, present, or perhaps a bit of both,” he said.

Student Reaghan Perez wrote, “Thanks Mr. D for all you have done to make our school happy. We love all your fun stories and crafts.”

“Mr. D taught me a lot of lessons," said Levi Roth. "His stories have lessons, even when he makes them up, and his crafts are amazing.”

"Thanks Mr. D for doing art projects. We love them," said student Conor Rosenberger. "Some of my favorites were Polynesian blankets, headbands and Native American boxes.”

Jania-Jo Matison said that “Mr. D is a great teacher who told me about places I never knew. He tells great stories about people from all over the world.”

Donehower had an open door policy with his fellow teachers. He’d often talk to their students’ classes on particular cultures like Native American, European or Pacific Islands.

"I might tell a lesson tale," he said. "I always tell, rather than read, and often bring artifacts into the story. Then we might do a project that reflects and helps cement the learning,” he said.

“Mr. D taught me about a lot of things around the world,” said Alli Kimball. "He is one of the best teachers I ever met. He always helps with programs from costumes and headbands to movement for our songs."

Donehower didn't start teaching until his 40s.

"I was lucky to have worked, lived, traveled and done research from Hawaii and Tahiti, to the north of Africa,” he said. "I worked in research as a Pacific Island specialist for the state of Hawaii for 10years."

He has a bachelor’s degree in geology from the College of William and Mary in Virginia, and a master’s in geography from the University of Hawaii and two years at the East-West Center for Technical and Cultural Interchange in Honolulu. His bachelor’s in education and teaching certificate are from the University of Puget Sound.

"My school and staff embraced concepts of tolerance and diversity and have welcomed all families and students," Donehower said. “Our kids are excited to learn about other people and places. In doing so, they learn about themselves. They know a lot more things connect us into one big human family than separate us. I'm so proud of the kids I see every day treating each other with respect and caring. We have wonderful parents of many backgrounds who give countless volunteer hours to help make the school the best it can be.

"I hope I've opened up the world a bit to my students. As our world shrinks, our children need to be culturally aware and knowledgeable about other places in our country and in the world. If I help them become more aware and have fun doing it, I will have succeeded. If they are stimulated to seek out more on their own as a result of some inspiration in my classroom, then I am thrilled,” Donehower said.

On June 9, from 3:45-5:15 p.m., the public is welcome to attend a party for Donehower at the school. Refreshments will be served.