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TIME TO SMELL THE ROSES

Ricky Korach retires after 46 years teaching both English and personal character
by: VERN UYETAKE Two weeks ago, Korach, right, was spending leisure time in her backyard garden at her home in Lake Oswego.

She has seen it all: Hippies and hipsters; go-go boots and Uggs; Schollander and Love.

She's been there through the Challenger explosion, the Columbine shootings and 9/11.

Ricky Korach - Lake Oswego High School's loved, revered and slightly feared English teacher - is a legend. After 46 years of teaching and 30 years as English Department chair, she's taught hundreds upon hundreds of students about Hester Prynne, Boo Radley and Daisy Buchanan.

And, sadly, she is packing up her classics and calling it a day.

'Teaching in one decade or another was really no more challenging,' Korach said. 'The kids, they don't change all that much. Teenagers are teenagers.

'They are the most fun group in the world. They are interested and interesting.

'I've taught them 'The Scarlet Letter' for 46 years, and every year I learn something new. Apparently, according to the students, I smile in a particular way when I hear an insightful comment. They know I appreciate it.'

Korach, who, as most people are aware, is married to Lake Oswego School District Superintendent Bill Korach, was 24-year-old Rachel Lee when she first came to Lake Oswego High School.

She first met Bill when she interviewed him for his job as principal at Lake Oswego High School.

'He and I were both married at the time, and we each had two children,' Korach said. 'He started as principal in 1981 and got divorced in 1983. We were married in 1985. It has been wonderful. Bill and I are both so completely committed to our jobs and to the kids, I'm not sure what it would have been like if we hadn't shared this commitment.'

Leaving a legacy

There is hardly a LOHS family around that has not been touched in one way or another by the Korach tutelage; in many cases, the lessons are multi-generational.

'This year alone, I had a couple of students in my yearbook class and three in my honors English class whose parents I also taught,' Korach said.

One of her former students, math teacher Peter Dodson, has been her co-worker at the high school for the last 13 years.

'I remember doing well in Ricky's class,' Dodson said. 'But she was a demanding teacher.

'You know, students tend to gravitate toward the teachers that hold them accountable. Every student that has entered Ricky's class for 40 years has known that they were going to work hard.'

John Wendlund, 1979 LOHS graduate and current chair of the Lake Oswego School Board, said, 'We always wondered what color pen she was going to use to correct the papers, because you'd see a lot of it. It was always exciting to get your paper back because it had gone from black and white to black and white and red or green. Her comments weren't always negative, she'd also tell you what you did well. She had an incredible talent for teaching people how to write.'

Wendlund's daughter, Katy, also a former student of Korach's who is now a sophomore at Santa Clara University, concurred, 'Dr. Korach taught us not to care so much about the grade but to care about being better writers. I was so prepared for college.'

Every year, Korach started her class with a lecture on personal integrity.

'I'd tell them 'if you are cheating - you are cheating yourself,' and I got nasty if I caught them plagiarizing,' she said.

'I quoted the Green Knight (from the 14th century Arthurian poem) 'but that lie hath lessened me.' When the kids took shortcuts, used steroids, texted friends for answers from the bathrooms, I'd remind them that they were violating their personal integrity.'

While this makes her sound rather priggish, there is nothing school-marmish about Korach.

At the young age of 68, she led a rap song at the school's annual May Fete festivities. Admittedly it was to Edgar Allen Poe's classic, 'The Raven,' but it nevertheless had some serious swagger.

Over the years, she's led the staff in the bunny hop, performed in 'Gypsy' in stilettos and danced and cheered in goofy school skits and at pep rallies.

'That's Ricky,' Dodson said. 'She did that stuff all the time.'

'She has a good sense of humor,' Katy Wendlund said. 'As the oldest teacher in the school, she agreed to act as a prehistoric homecoming princess for our ASB video. It was hilarious. She is very cool.'

Changes over the decades

One of the most dramatic changes Korach has seen during her tenure is the strides made for young women and the effects of Title IX.

'When I graduated from Amity High School, only two of us out of 30 went to college. There were no girls' athletics, and there was very little support for girls' activities at all,' she said.

Today high school girls are involved in sports, student government and leadership as much, if not more, as their male counterparts.

Korach, who kept score for the LOHS girls' basketball team for years, remembers the pride of watching her student/athlete Katy Steding win a gold medal for basketball in the 1996 Olympics.

Korach has had other celebrated students as well, including screenwriter Jonathan Raymond ('Wendy and Lucy,') and living-in-Ireland novelist Molly McCloskey ('Protection' and 'Solomon's Seal.')

'And I always get my hug from Kevin Love,' she said.

The next chapter

Korach readily admits that she's 'loved her job every day because it is really not a job - it is who I am. It energizes me. I feel like I'm giving the Lou Gehrig speech, but I really do feel like the 'luckiest (wo)man alive.''

Her next chapter will be full of surprises, but she hopes to read, garden and volunteer in the classrooms of her daughter, Lauri Nguyen, and granddaughter, Traci Nguyen, who both teach in the Lake Oswego district.

'They both started their careers at the age of 24, just like I did,' Korach said.

She and Bill had agreed to retire at the same time, but, 'he reneged, and then he donated his salary, and now he has agreed to finish the two years of his contract,' Korach said. 'But I felt it was my time. I like round numbers. Seventy felt right.'

In her departure, Korach has been toasted and touted.

At her retirement party, she was presented with a ring designed by her former student, Kevin Lindsey, class of 1975, owner of Kevin Lindsey Jewelers in Lake Oswego.

'I was so honored to be asked by Ricky to make her ring,' Lindsey said. 'Her career here is legendary and I feel so privileged to help her commemorate this important step in her life.'

But it has been some of the quieter reverence that has left her speechless.

'I'm not a crier, I'm really not. I'm in control of myself always, but when two of my students, Joanna Klitzky and Alise Wonderlich, presented me with a book in which my students had written me notes, I got a little emotional. They told me they had to represent all the kids from the last 46 years, and all the kids that won't get to have me as a teacher.'