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A Tale of Two Cities

Okay, I admit that title is corny but it fits, honest! When the Hunts—father, mother, daughter, son, one dog and two cats—first considered a move from Flagstaff, Arizona (which had a summer music festival and a ski resort) to Sandpoint, Idaho (which has a summer music festival and a ski resort) we worried about two things. First, had Jennifer (then 16) and Fred (then 14) been sufficiently exposed to diverse population groups; Sandpoint was nearly 100% white. Second, Flagstaff had wonderful teachers, many of them spouses of university professors at Northern Arizona University; we worried about the quality of Idaho schools.  Come to think of it, since I taught at NAU and my wife taught French in the public schools, we fit that model ourselves.

We never had an impact on the Sandpoint population other than to add four more white people. But we did have some impact on the schools because Judy was soon teaching French, giving us an advantage in knowing which teachers were up to snuff and which were not; believe me, there were oodles in both camps. We encountered some of the best classroom teachers we had ever met—this essay is about them—and some of the worst.  We were especially blessed in the STEM disciplines.

Sandpoint High School offered a one-two punch that has never been matched in my professional experience. The SHS stand out math teacher was Rick Gehring; his colleague in science (physics and chemistry) was Woody Aunan.  These two gents changed my kids’ lives.

Both of my children took as many courses as they could from each of these two remarkable teachers. And both kids won state awards and many other accolades as a result.  Jennifer won first place medals in both the Idaho Math and Chemistry competitions and Fred later did the same in Math and Earth Science. I am not sure where the talent in STEM areas came from since their mother taught French and I taught the humanities but both children blossomed.

Jennifer went on to Bryn Mawr College where she was graduated with high honors with a major in chemistry and a minor in French. She then went to medical school at the University of Pennsylvania where she also did her residency and fellowship year in pathology. Since then she has taught, practiced medicine, and done research at the University of Pittsburgh, the Cleveland Clinic, and Massachusetts General Hospital where she was also an Associate Professor at Harvard Med. She is now Chair of Pathology at the University of Arkansas and also holds an endowed chair as a full professor, is tenured, and supervises nearly 200 employees, about 50 of them medical doctors.  Fred went to the College of Idaho and was graduated with high honors, with double majors in chemistry and history; he then did several years of graduate work in chemistry, chemical engineering, and machining at the University of Idaho prior to accepting a variety of positions in high tech firms.  He now lives in Athol, Idaho, where he has a machine shop and makes his living inventing, mainly in the field of archery where he has won many awards.  Both say they never had teachers any better than Gehring and Aunan.

Fred and Jennifer had other influences beyond the public schools.  Our neighbor, Richard Neher, MD, was like a second father to both of them; Rich and his wife, Marcie, are also Idaho products, both having earned degrees at the College of Idaho.  I was able to introduce Fred to a Sandpoint man who invented epoxy and also the plastic drinking straw.  Jennifer was fascinated by the stream of internationally known musicians who came to town.  And many others were influential in their development. But when push comes to shove, it was Gehring and Aunan who changed the course of my kids’ lives and as a parent and educator, I can never thank them enough for that influence.

Timothy Hunt earned a Ph. D. in English from Northern Illinois University in 1971.  For many years he taught humanities, non-profit management and communication at colleges and universities in Arizona and Idaho.  He is now retired and lives in Hayden with his wife and their three cats.