Everett, Mukilteo principal was devoted to education, kids

EVERETT — To his two children, Greg Gelderman was the dad who was always there for every sports meet and practice. His daughter, Suzanne Rivera, remembers him driving to Snohomish, standing on a hill and waving as she glided through the water as part of a crew with the Everett Rowing Association.

“It’s not a thing parents come to watch — crew practice,” she said. “I don’t think I ever saw another parent there.”

To his education colleagues, with whom he worked as a principal in the Everett and Mukilteo school districts for of 15 years, he is remembered as someone with a fiery commitment to serving each child and his ability to inspire teachers.

“Every staff meeting was like a master class in teaching,” said Lynn Watson, a fourth-grade teacher who worked with him at Everett’s Cedar Wood Elementary School. “He made me a better teacher. It was an opportunity of a lifetime to work with someone like that.”

Gelderman, 62, died Sept. 1 while on vacation with his family in Grant County. He was out for a morning bicycle ride near Mattawa when he was struck by a car. He died at the scene. The accident was blamed on the 38-year-old driver being temporarily blinded by the sun. A memorial service is scheduled for 11 a.m. Saturday at Westgate Chapel, 22901 Edmonds Way in Edmonds.

Gelderman was a principal at Mukilteo’s Horizon and Endeavor elementary schools from 1992 to 1999 and at Everett’s Cedar Wood Elementary School and Heatherwood Middle School from 1999 to 2007. He always was on the lookout to help kids who he felt needed it the most, whether it was visiting their parents in their home or staying after school to work with them, Rivera said. “He was very invested in the kids he worked with.”

He would shoot hoops with students at recess and signed up each year for a rotation at a dunk tank during school fundraisers, “so middle-schoolers obviously loved him,” Rivera said.

In 1996, he was selected as a “Washington State Distinguished Principal” for the Snohomish Region by the Elementary School Principals Association of Washington. He was one of 13 principals in the state chosen for the award that year.

Gelderman received his doctorate in education in 2004 from Seattle Pacific University. He retired from the Everett School District to work first as an adjunct faculty member at SPU beginning in 2004 and later as a certification officer helping graduate students who wanted to become school administrators.

Even while working at SPU, he was the person Everett School District officials turned to when they had an unexpected need for a fill-in principal at North Middle School from April until June 2013.

“He went to his bosses and took a leave to help a middle school,” said Joyce Stewart, an Everett associate superintendent. “It shows you the extent he would go to help his former colleagues and Everett Public School students.”

This commitment remained until the end of his life. On the evening of Aug. 28, when he heard that the district had reached a tentative agreement with its teachers on a new contract, Gelderman sent a text of congratulations saying, “It’s great to get school started for kids,” Stewart said.

Gelderman and his wife, Beverly Gelderman, celebrated their 38th wedding anniversary in June. They have two children, daughters Suzanne Rivera, 35, of Denver, and Stacey Babcock, 32, of Walla Walla, and four grandchildren.

In 2006, Gelderman was treated for testicular cancer. He was active in sports, from jogging to water-skiing. He took up bicycling after hip replacement surgery in 2007, Babcock said. In July, he completed the 206-mile Seattle-to-Portland bicycle race in a single day.

The next day, he and his wife rose early to travel to Walla Walla to be at the first Sunday service for Babcock and her husband, Matthew Babcock, as senior pastors at the New Joy Foursquare Church.

Rivera said that when her family moved into a new home in Colorado in May, her dad asked if he could join his wife at her home to help with chores while she was on a business trip. When she returned, she found that not only had the moving boxes been unpacked but shelves had been built in the garage.

She remembers her father never missed an opportunity to tell his daughters how much they meant to him. “He never hesitated to say, ‘I love you,’” she said. “I would get letters in the mail saying, ‘Suzanne, thinking of you and wanted to let you know how proud I am of you.’ ”

Even though it’s been eight years since he retired from the Everett School District, Rivera said when she made trips home to Everett, she and her dad would inevitably be stopped when they walked into local stores. Former students or their parents often would walk up to them, greeting them with a smile, asking: “Aren’t you Mr. Gelderman?”

Sharon Salyer: 425-330-3486; salyer@heraldnet.com.


A memorial service for Greg Gelderman is scheduled for 11 a.m. Saturday at Westgate Chapel, 22901 Edmonds Way in Edmonds. Flowers may be sent or donations made in Greg Gelderman’s name to the New Joy Four Square Church, 3 South Colville St., Walla Walla, WA 99362.

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