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Honored WRHS teacher follows passion

White River High teacher Karen Fugate embraces her sister Sharon, who celebrated her honor for Excellence in Education. - Photo by Brenda Sexton
White River High teacher Karen Fugate embraces her sister Sharon, who celebrated her honor for Excellence in Education.
— image credit: Photo by Brenda Sexton

Sharon Fugate stretched her arms high so everyone in the White River High School gymnasium could see the sign that said, "My Twin Rocks."

The sign stated something White River students already know – English teacher Karen Fugate does indeed rock and they're not the only ones who believe it.

Before the crowd packed into the gym May 25, John and Ginny Meisenbach presented Fugate with their annual Mary Meisenbach Excellence in Education Award.

"This is my passion," Fugate told the crowd. "I am so thankful that I get up everyday and do what I love.

"White River does rock and I am blessed to be here."

"Every year, but maybe one, you were nominated," Meisenbach told Fugate after the ceremony.

Each year, John and Ginny Meisenbach honor a White River High teacher for their dedication to education. The award began 11 years ago in memory of John’s mother who believed education was paramount to success, and it comes with a tax-free, no-strings-attached $10,000 bonus.

Meisenbach grew up in Buckley and graduated from White River in 1954. His parents owned and operated the M&M variety store on Main Street from 1946 to the 1970s. After the Navy and college, he started an insurance and financial services business in Seattle.He set up the award to reward hard-working teachers in his home town.

Fugate joins past recipients Brenda Waugh-Hopkins, Lynette Nylund, Dianne Campbell, Bob Brooks, Terry Veltkamp, Juan Garibay, Jill Sulkosky, Bev Snyder, Jer Argo and Todd and Amy Miller.

Fugate is a 1983 Enumclaw High graduate who earned her education degree from Central Washington University.

Influenced by her twin, Sharon, Fugate said she considered teaching special education, but thought it might be too close to home and her heart.

"I knew I loved to read and write, and I love stories, and knew I had to be with the big kids, high school, so English was the perfect fit for me," she said.

She spent the first eight years of her career in the Everett School District at Cascade and later Jackson high schools. She has spent the past 11 years at White River.

Candidates must be at White River at least five to be considered as a nominee.

The teaching position at White River brought her back to her family.

"My family is my life," said Fugate, the youngest of eight children whose dad Jim Fugate, started Fugate Ford Mazda.

Jim Fugate died within the past few months, but the Fugate clan, mother Dolly, and her brothers and sisters were at the ceremony.

Each year, the Meisenbach winner is top secret until the assembly. When she saw her family appear from behind the bleachers, Fugate was stunned no one had spilled the beans.

In addition to her family, Fugate was quick to praise her students and colleagues.

"There are some great teachers here, and the passion they have for kids and education is phenomenal," she said."These kids are amazing."

The students who nominated Fugate think she's the one who is amazing.

"Mrs. Fugate made me believe I had something to offer the world and an opinion that matters," John Meisenbach read from a student's nomination letter, who also noted Fugate gave them confidence to pursue upper-level learning.

WRHS valedictorian Mike Burley, who opened the presentation, said any of the school's 57 teachers were deserving and he quoted Henry Adams on how a teacher affects eternity. He expressed a desire to see the Meisenbach's legacy continue.

"White River High School has so many more deserving candidates," he said.The Meisenbachs do plan to continue the program.

John Meisenbach joked about it.In addition to the honor, the Meisenbachs invite the winner and past honorees and their spouses to dinner either at their home or a restaurant.

"I can see us now, with 100 people traveling to Seattle for dinner on three buses," he laughed.

It's important to recognize teachers, he said, and encouraged students to thank them and, after graduation, to stay in touch with them.

The Meisenbachs, who also provide several scholarships to White River students, commended the district for its success.

"Over 50 percent of the kids in the United States going to high school don't graduate," Meisenbach said. "White River High School is higher than 90 percent."

 

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