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Jack of all trades

Former Lakeridge alternative ed teacher Jack DePue plans a retirement of jet setting, book writing, concert going, tree hugging - and more
by: Vern Uyetake, Jack DePue, who retired from his job teaching language arts, social studies and alternative education at Lakeridge High School in June, plans to finish writing his first novel by June 2008. DePue worked at Lakeridge for 25 years and is a self-described “tree-hugger.”

Jack DePue is not your average recently retired high school teacher. With gray hair down to his shoulders, a book in the works and plans to travel to Germany, this self-proclaimed 'tree-hugger' is anything but ordinary.

DePue was an alternative education teacher for Lakeridge High School for 25 years - much longer than the average alternative ed teacher. Within the alternative education system, he also taught language arts and social studies.

According to former Vice Principal Laura Shea, students in alternative education have average or above average intellect, but don't mesh well with the traditonal methods used in public education.

Those students usually need an 'alternative' way to display their knowledge and stronger relationships with teachers or their classmates, Shea added. At Lakeridge, DePue bridged that divide and helped many teens make it to graduation.

'We're not all cookie cutters; everyone learns differently,' Shea said. 'What I appreciated about Jack's program was that it kept all the Pacers as Pacers and they got to walk across the stage as Pacers and didn't have to go somewhere else to get their diploma. That's pretty cool.'

DePue has also advised students in the Oregon Youth and Government program for 25 years, and received a standing ovation from the 200 students in attendance at a ceremony recognizing his achievements.

DePue originally went to college to do something in the corporate world. He went to Lewis and Clark College and majored in business, with minors in history and economics. After years of being a banker, DePue realized at 36 that he wanted to be a teacher.

One can see that DePue is not quite all adjusted to the idea of retirement yet. When talking fondly about students that he's had in the past, he uses the present tense, 'my students' and catches himself. 'My former students,' he corrects himself, and smiles.

'The best moment in teaching is when students come back and thank me,' DePue said. 'They say that their lives would have gone a different way if it weren't for me. It's so amazing that it still gives me goose bumps.'

DePue has quite a colorful life, with two sons on opposite sides of the globe. His oldest son John is a producer for a production company called Dancing Bear Production in Cologne, Germany. His youngest son currently lives with DePue in Sellwood and plays in three different Portland bands. He also works for Recycled Music Northwest, which produces television shows for Portland Community Media. DePue wants to spend as much time as he can attending his son's shows and visiting his other son in Germany.

DePue's biggest plans for retirement, however, revolve around completion of the book he has just started to write.

The idea for the book came to him when he turned 50 and went to the Oregon Country Fair. Since then he has kept it in the back of his mind and fleshed out notes on what exactly he wants it to be about.

'When I look back at my life I realize I have an awful lot of experiences,' DePue said. 'I have been lucky enough to be a son, a brother, a teacher, a counselor, etc. I am also so grateful to have been able to live these two lives - one as a conservative businessman and the other as an extremely liberal teacher.'

Continues DePue, 'I want people to have common sense but also a purposeful sense, and I want to help show people and teachers how to take these tools to the classroom and apply them to everyday life.'

DePue says that the book will be in the vein of Ishmael and its sequels, which uses the platform of a talking gorilla that educates the reader about ideas on history, psychology, philosophy and life. The hero will be a heroine nicknamed 'Mirror.' This is because, as DePue says, 'We all have projections, personas and mirrors of people and experiences and the world.'

DePue hopes that it will be a trilogy, with the first book being a kind of instructive self-help book. The second book will be a novel that shows the application of these ideas, and the third, DePue hopes, will be his memoirs, 'if I ever get famous and egotistical enough.'

DePue still plans to be involved with the community by remaining a member of the Youth and Government's Program Committee. He also wants to retain enough connection with the educational community to hopefully be able to come back and give presentations and hold conferences when his book comes out next year. Currently the deadline is slated for June 15, 2008, exactly one year after DePue's retirement.

As for now, DePue is still getting over the shock of being able to do whatever he wants every day, if he chooses to do anything at all.

'I'm still somewhere between wonderment, disbelief, too good to be true, all that stuff,' DePue said.