Stan Chalich grew up in a Spokane Valley fruit orchard just one block from the high school he would teach at for 49 years.
Raised by his mother in a poor household – the youngest of five boys and two girls – the 73-year-old Chalich said he learned early about the value of hard work, a lesson he has never forgotten.
His father, a coal miner from Serbia, died when he was a year old, the victim of a mining-related lung disease known as silicosis.
“We didn’t have much. What we had was a lot of love,” he said.
Encouraged by teachers and successful at sports, Chalich went on to college – in part through scholarships – and got his first teaching job at Central Valley High School from former Principal Bill Ames.
On Tuesday, he was finishing up his last work as a longtime social studies teacher. Classes ended on Monday, making it the perfect time for reminiscing.
“Personally, it was never a job,” Chalich said of teaching. “I always loved my students.”
He said he would go out of his way to relate to the ones who were having a hard time. “I understood students.”
His lessons, he said, were built on hard rock values:
“I want you to think before you talk” tops the list.
He required students to stand in class to speak.
Social studies looks closely at civics, government and citizenship. Every student was held accountable for explaining their view or position.
The lesson: “Learn to think on your feet. Pay attention to what’s going on,” he said.
On government, “I always tell them politics is the art of the possible.”
Debate is a cornerstone of democracy: “You always have your say but not your way at the end.”
Civics is fundamental to who we are, he said, “You are talking about life when teaching about governments and countries.”
Students today need to unplug from their devices and connect with people face-to-face, he said.
Too many adults have become angry toward government largely out of ignorance, he said.
One of his pleasures over the years was following former students grow and succeed. A large number of them have gone on to careers in law enforcement, he said.
Public education is often criticized unfairly, he said.
“My colleagues, they are very professional. I want to tell you they put in the hours. They care about students,” he said.
Larry Bernbaum, a CVHS counselor, said Chalich has been a pillar of the community.
Bernbaum wrote a tribute to Chalich for his recent retirement party.
In it, Bernbaum said, “If Central Valley High School has a face, it’s Stan Chalich. If it has a heart, it’s Stan Chalich. If it has a soul, it’s Stan Chalich. I love Stan Chalich.”
Tuesday morning, Chalich passed Bernbaum’s office.
“You can’t leave without giving me a hug,” Bernbaum told him.
Chalich has received lots of well wishes, especially from former students.
“He treated us like adults and expected us to meet his high expectations without handholding ,” wrote Melody Crick Peters, class of 1997, in an email.
Chalich graduated from the old CVHS on Sprague Avenue in Greenacres.
He went on to Columbia Basin College in Pasco and graduated from the Western Montana College of Education in 1968.
He worked short stints in the Bunker Hill Mine and at the Kaiser Mead smelter.
Chalich said he wanted to taste the hard work. It was enough to convince him to become a teacher.
He was the head or assistant coach at various times for wrestling, tennis, football, basketball and baseball.
He worked at summer camps and coached AAU sports.
He started a Junior Statesman program and took students to Washington, D.C., on Close Up Foundation visits, both of which put students in touch with civic leaders.
He brought in court mentors and other leaders. He particularly enjoyed having prosecutors appear in class, he said.
He won the Flame of Democracy Award from the Washington State Bar Association.
A resident of Liberty Lake, Chalich and his wife, Leslie Blair Chalich, raised three sons, all of whom have gone on to professional careers.
He was involved in the Liberty Lake Property Owners Association at a time when lake residents were trying to clean up the water in the 1970s.
He helped organize the Liberty Lake Sewer District.
Chalich is currently running for the position 1 seat on the Spokane Valley Fire Department board of commissioners.
He has worked on watershed planning and development of trails, including the Centennial Trail.
In January, his brother, George Chalich, died at age 86 after a career in college athletics followed by teaching and coaching in local schools.
Stan Chalich said his old sixth grade teacher, Neil Prescott, who also died recently, was his longtime mentor and father figure. Chalich visited Prescott regularly.
“I’d walk in and he’d say, ‘Hi, son.’ ”
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