After a 33-year career with schools in Boring, Pat Sanders will retire this June

by: Lisa K. Anderson, Pat Sanders, retiring Kelso Elementary principal, has loved reading with students such as kindergartner Max Nickila, 6. Instead of being afraid of the principal's office, kids at Kelso often ask to visit Sanders for fun, reading to him and telling him stories about their families.

It's not uncommon for Pat Sanders to make a run to Fred Meyer for a gallon of milk and not return for an hour, but he doesn't mind.

Sanders runs into former students regularly and loves the sense of community he's felt as a teacher and administrator in the Boring area for 33 years.

'I see students who are children of former students,' Sanders says. 'It gives the parents a comfort. They know me and my values, they know who I am, and they feel like they can approach me.'

Sanders will retire at the end of June after a career spent at Boring Middle and Kelso Elementary schools, and Kelso staff members are planning a celebration in his honor at 4 p.m. Thursday, May 31, in the school gym.

'I got my dream job,' Sanders says of Kelso. 'I was very blessed. No two days are the same. You have your routines, but the kids keep them fresh. The dedication of our volunteers and teachers makes me really proud.'

Sanders grew up in the Portland area, graduating from Hillsboro High School in 1970 and raising his family in the Gresham area. With some college behind him, Sanders kicked off his career as the branch manager of a financial institution. But dealing with money was very high-stress, and the migraines and unhappiness it caused spurred Sanders to consider another field.

At his wife Cheryl's encouragement (the two met on a blind date and have been married 38 years), Sanders saved up for one year before quitting his job and returning to school for education.

'I loved working with kids, and my wife's grandmother was an influence as a former teacher,' he says.

When he finished his degree at Portland State University, Sanders began subbing, with some of his jobs at Boring Middle School.

After the middle school principal asked him to stay on as a staff member, Sanders began his three-decade career with schools in Boring, spending 17 years at Boring Middle School and 16 years at Kelso, seven as a fourth- and fifth-grade teacher and nine as principal.

Amid his job transitions, Sanders has taught physical education, social studies, art and darkroom photography, along with being a teacher on special assignment, a position similar to dean of students.

He coached basketball, wrestling, baseball, soccer, track and volleyball at Boring Middle for 13 years and served as athletic director for several years.

'Mr. Sanders is great - like a superhero,' a Kelso student named Sayge once wrote in a book she dedicated to Sanders. 'He is sweet and kind, too! I love Mr. Sanders as our school principal. He is as sweet as honey. He might save the world one of these days.'

More often than not, when kids come to Sanders' office, it's for the good things they're doing - not disciplinary issues. The kids read to him, share stories and read their journals.

'He has a way of keeping on top of students and their behavior while still showing them he genuinely likes them,' says Sherrie Schmidt, secretary to the principal. 'He has just enough of a kid in him to make life interesting around here.

"He has a great sense of humor that makes everyone comfortable and is always willing to listen to concerns or new ideas.'

Kids remember how Sanders created balloon hats and gave them ice cream for their birthdays. How he loves the Oregon State University Beavers and likes to joke over the intercom or speak into a bull horn. He's also known for his cartoon tie collection, which has surpassed 80 ties.

'Having him as a boss makes you feel like you can talk about anything,' says Heather Meyers, the fifth-grade teacher at Kelso. 'I really enjoy his personality ... and his mischievousness.'

From 'bear-knapping' his secretary's bear collection to playing up the University of Oregon and Oregon State rivalry and letting students dress him up in makeup for a bet, Sanders has brought an element of fun to Kelso.

He has two sons, Adam and Eric, and two grandchildren, Cameron and Carsten, whom he looks forward to spending more time with in retirement. His daughter-in-law, Kim, is a teacher at Firwood Elementary.

Other retirement plans? Seeing the Yankees play in July. Watching Oregon State football games. Traveling to the Panama Canal. Involving himself with mission work through his church. Continuing his work with the Oregon Trail Education Foundation. He also plans to pursue his hobbies of photography and fishing.

'He has been the best principal, and someone kids will never forget,' says Marisa Cannon, a 10-year-old fifth-grader.

Public invited to celebration

Kelso Elementary School will hold a party for retiring principal Pat Sanders from 4-6 p.m. Thursday, May 31, at 34651 S.E. Kelso Road, Boring. Family, school employees and community members are invited to enjoy refreshments, tell stories and celebrate the longtime educator. Sanders spent 33 years as a teacher and administrator in Boring.