A final high-five for longtime educator
Teacher Dale Friend and his wife were dining in New York City not too many years ago when their waiter asked Friend two questions.
“Do you still live on Mount Rainier? And are you still 101/2?”
That’s when Friend recognized the man as one of his former students at Browns Point Elementary School in Tacoma.
As he winds up 43 years of working at the same school, the fourth-grade teacher is still spinning tall tales about his mountain-top home and his tender age. The faux bio is part of his legend at Browns Point.
“I told them teachers don’t make a lot of money, so I had to get a house on top of Mount Rainier,” said Friend, who in real life lives in East Pierce County. (At age 65, he’s a few decades past 101/2, too.)
“The story has grown over the years,” Friend acknowledges.
Browns Point kids still love listening to his stories. Recently, they got a chance to ask him questions as they recorded a video interview with him. The video is part of a school project in which students are documenting the history of their school in the hopes of producing a book.
For nearly half a century, Friend has been part of Browns Point history.
Kids asked how old he was when he started teaching.
“Really young,” Friend said with a poker face. “I’m only 101/2, so I must have been only 3 or 4.”
And what about that house on Mount Rainier? How does he stay warm up there? How does he get to school everyday?
Easy, he replied. He heats with handy volcano power. And he commutes down the mountain in a helicopter.
Friend began teaching at Browns Point in 1969, and it’s the only place he has worked as a teacher. He’s taught every elementary grade, either as a permanent or substitute teacher.
Principal Patricia Moncure Thomas, who has been at the school 11 years, said Friend is the school’s only male classroom teacher – men are still the exception in elementary education – and a valued member of the school team.
He has always been willing to tackle tough assignments, Thomas said.
“He sees a need, and he fills in,” she said.
Students wanted to know how their school had changed over the decades.
He said students years ago watched movies on reel-to-reel projectors. The school library had few books, and the Kobetich Library in Northeast Tacoma wasn’t open yet. So Browns Point students used to take field trips to Tacoma’s downtown library.
At one time, Friend had 40 students in his class – roughly twice the size of his class today.
“I told the principal, ‘The door is closed,’” because there was no more room in the classroom. “But at that time, that’s the way things were.”
Friend has taught two generations of several Browns Point families, and he knows at least one family with a third-generation student headed there in a few years.
He’s retiring for two reasons, he said.
“I think it’s time,” he said. And although he’ll no doubt be spending more time up on Mount Rainier, he wants to spend time traveling, too.
Students wanted to know why Friend became a teacher, and what he’ll miss most. His answer: Giving kids high-fives as they walk down the hall each morning.
“I’ve been around kids all my life, and they always put a smile on my face,” he said. “When I get up in the morning, I don’t think of this as work. I think of this as fun.”
CELEBRATE A LIFETIME OF TEACHING
WHAT: Retirement party for Browns Point Elementary School teacher Dale Friend.
WHEN: 4:30-6:30 June 21.
WHERE: At the school, 1526 51st St. N.E.
MORE: Wear Huskies colors to honor Friend’s passion for Huskies sports.