Gerald Hester, a popular former Spokane Public Schools superintendent, died Tuesday after a long battle with multiple health issues.
Hester, 82, was superintendent from 1980 to 1993.
As Spokane’s superintendent, he “had a successful run, things kept changing and improving,” said Gary Livingston, Hester’s successor. “He worked hard to bring financial security to the district. He implemented a number of programs for at-risk children. He was one of the leaders among superintendents around the state.”
Hester spent half his career in education as a K-12 superintendent, the last 13 of which were in Spokane Public Schools. It was a time when community relationships were tense following a teacher strike, 14 elementary schools were being replaced or renovated, a new North Central High School was about to be built, and curriculum was being revamped.
“We hired him because he had a reputation as an energetic leader,” said Mike Ormsby, U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Washington, then a school board member. “Managing the day-to-day activities of a school district is a remarkable feat.”
Hester was described as a positive leader and person. But that “did not stop him from holding people accountable for what they needed to do,” Ormsby said.
But he did more than turn the district around.
“He really increased communications with the community through publications and mailings, and working with the business community,” said Kerry Lynch, then district communications director.
He also had a strong humanitarian side, she added. “When he had been superintendent for only two weeks, a (Lewis and Clark High School) student fell from the third floor down a stairwell.” Hester dropped what he was doing and went to the hospital to be with the family. “His top priority was always being there for the students and for the families.”
Hester began his education career in the 1950s after earning a degree from Washington State University. “He majored in physical education. He was going to be a PE teacher,” said Carol Hester, his wife of 57 years. “He taught anything and everything. He coached basketball and baseball and was assistant football coach.”
After a few years teaching, he earned his doctorate. He became a school counselor, a vice principal, a principal and then superintendent. He spent four years as the top leader in Vashon Island, Wash., and four years in Auburn, Wash. He had had the top job in Vancouver for seven years before being hired in Spokane.
“Dr. Hester was highly respected by staff and community; he was a strong supporter of learning – for everyone, and encouraged all of us to continue our educational journeys,” said Superintendent Nancy Stowell, who was working in the district when he arrived. “As a result of Dr. Hester’s support, many of us participated in educational programs that led to doctorates. He was a mentor and a leader of remarkable skill. Dr. Hester will be missed greatly by those of us who had the opportunity to work with him.”
His wife taught kindergarten through third grade. “I’d wait until we moved to a district, then go to the neighboring district to teach,” Carol Hester said. She retired when he took the Spokane job. “Keeping up with him was hard to do.”
His son, Mark Hester, is a teacher at Shadle Park High School. His daughter, Sue Stolk, is a school aide in Oregon.
Hester retired in 1993, but kept his home in Spokane, said Carol Hester; they spent October through May in Palm Desert, Calif.
For relaxation, he golfed. He loved music – all kinds, but especially jazz, his wife said. He also played the piano.
“He was wonderful. I enjoyed every moment of it,” Carol Hester said. “Well maybe not every moment, but most of it.”