Celebrating an illustrious career
For 38 years, Dominic Yambasu has served Lake Oswego as a coach, teacher and mentor.
He spent nearly four decades molding the community's young men and women, not only into better soccer players and students, but also better citizens of both their city and the world at large.
Next week, his former players, fellow coaches and community members will say thank you for that dedication by celebrating Yambasu's recent retirement at a send-off party in the Lake Oswego High School cafeteria (2501 Country Club Road).
The event is scheduled from 7-9 p.m. on Tuesday, May 1.
"The kids here are wonderful," Yambasu says. "I made a lot of great relationships with the kids, and along the way, different parent groups I've worked with over the years have been terrific too. The whole program, I enjoyed working in it, and the administrators were so pleasant to work with, as well as other coaches in the district."
Yambasu came to Oregon in 1975 from his native Sierra Leone. He married and started a family here, and realized during visits home that his family would have much better opportunities if they stayed in the United States.
Having taught physical education for three years in Sierra Leone, Yambasu got a job working as the PE instructor at Bryant Elementary School. He still remembers the kindness of then-Principal Jean Fairbairn, who would pick him up from his home in Milwaukie and drive him to work because he didn't yet have a driver's license or car.
It's those small anecdotes of kindness that have stuck with him throughout the years, Yambasu says, and will provide a lasting memory of how he was treated here. Over the years, he worked in nine of the Lake Oswego School District's 13 schools.
"I want to thank Lake Oswego for giving me the opportunity to work in such a great community," Yambasu says. "I had a very heavy accent, and being given the opportunity to teach in this district was incredible."
Yambasu's work on the soccer field began in 1980 when he started coaching the JV boys at LOHS. He remembers one particularly hard-fought rivalry battle against Lakeridge High at George Rogers Park. That particular group of players had never beaten Lakeridge, and going into halftime the team was down 0-2 with a red card.
"I talked to the boys and said, 'Look, you can set a precedent here. You're down two, you're a man short, but if you win this game it will become history for you,'" he says. "They got back on the field and took that speech to heart. We ended up winning 3-2. It was unbelievable. They were so proud of themselves."
In 2004, Yambasu retired from teaching, but his tutelage on the soccer field continued and he eventually started coaching girls teams. In November of that year, he was able to return to Sierra Leone for the first time in 20 years, only to find a country ravaged by two decades of civil war.
During his visit, he held a funeral for family members who had died in the violence, including his father and younger sister. In all, 18 members of Yambasu's family were killed during the war.
His family's village of Motema was left heavily damaged by the fighting; in his family's compound, only one of four buildings remained. Yambasu got to work rebuilding his father's house and helped his fellow villagers on a number of projects in an effort to restore their community.
The work touched his heart, and when he returned to Lake Oswego, he brought with him an idea to establish a nonprofit organization to help the village of Motema and surrounding areas.
The Lake Oswego community rallied to help the friend and mentor who had helped shape the lives of so many young athletes. Fellow soccer coach and local real estate broker Mike Hasson helped Yambasu find legal representation to register the nonprofit Dynasty House. His soccer teams, players and parents chipped in too by hosting bake and rummage sales to raise funds for the organization.
"This community is the backbone behind that work. When I retired from teaching, I was not quite ready to retire, but I needed to go home to bury my dad and my sister," he says. "When I came back from that trip, I shared my story with my youth girls club team. The parents and players heard my story and decided to build a home for my family."
One of those players was Julianne Parker. She recalls feeling that it was her team's solemn duty to rally around their coach in his time of need. The experience was a crash course in philanthropy for the young women — a lesson that has remained with Parker into adulthood.
"As a 12-year-old, learning about Dom and what happened to his home and his family, that was the first time I'd been exposed to something outside my small little world, and it was profoundly impactful," Parker says. "He made space for this group of 12-year-old kids to feel like we had a part in helping him toward this goal of going back to Sierra Leone and helping rebuild his community. I don't think we did very much, but he certainly made us feel like we were having a stake in it as well."
Throughout his time in Lake Oswego, Yambasu has has many allies who have helped him along the way, but two stick out in his mind deserving special thanks: longtime Dynasty House board member John Harnish, and former board member Francine Gray who put in countless hours working with Yambasu to register the nonprofit for 501(c)(3) status.
Whether it was coaching on the field, inspirational speeches in the locker room at halftime, team bonding trips to the Oregon coast or helping to raise funds to rebuild an African village, Yambasu touched the lives of many Lake Oswegans, young and old. Next week's celebration will close the book on all of that — an illustrious career that has meant much more to this community than soccer alone.
All are invited to attend the celebration.