Snohomish High civics teacher is remembered for his life lessons

SNOHOMISH — His lessons will live on.

Charles “Tuck” Gionet, a beloved Snohomish High School teacher and coach, through his example showed others to leave the community better than they found it, family, friends, students and colleagues said at a public memorial service for the longtime educator Tuesday.

Gionet died Aug. 8 after a two-year battle with cancer. He was 55.

About 2,500 people packed into the sweltering Snohomish High gymnasium Tuesday to celebrate the life of the longtime civics teacher and coach.

Gionet is survived by his wife, Marci, and their children, TJ, Callie and Kyle, who shared memories of their father. They described a man who would always stop to listen to stories of old timers on fishing trips or people they met while traveling abroad.

“He would always give people that time of day,” TJ Gionet said. “He really taught me to live life to the fullest.”

Tuck’s brother, Cory Gionet, and sisters, Cindy Bealer and Cristi Rowbotham, talked about growing up with him on a farm in eastern Washington. He got the nickname “Tuck” when Cindy couldn’t pronounce Charles.

“But we had another name for him: ‘Nails,’ as in as tough as,” Cory Gionet said.

He took that toughness into his teaching with no tolerance for tardiness or late papers. Students dreaded getting Gionet on their course schedule but grew to appreciate him because of the important lessons they learned in his classroom. He expected a lot from them but gave more in return.

“I hope I can be as good a guy as he was,” said Evan Weeks, a 2013 graduate.

The five lessons that were written on the podium in Gionet’s classroom appeared on the back of the program for his memorial. He always told students: invest early, respect others, take care of the little things, always take the opportunity to make a difference, do the right thing.

“His desire was to pass on qualities of character,” said his sister, Cristi Rowbotham. “The ripple effect of his life will now continue beyond him.”

Those who knew him remember a long list of what they call Gionet-isms: “Once a Panther, always a Panther,” “For cryin’ out loud” and “Don’t do anything stupid.” The latter, he imparted to students on Fridays before they left school for the weekend.

Gionet encouraged students to know what was going on in the world around them and reinforced that suggestion with regular pop quizzes on current events.

He taught them to get involved in government, taking students to the Capitol in Olympia to present their ideas for laws to legislators. They also held forums for political candidates.

Gionet insisted students have opinions and back up their reasoning. They wrote essays, defending their views in blue books. He would never tell them what he thought before they made up their own minds so he wouldn’t influence their thinking.

Ian Goodhew, a 1992 graduate, spoke of how Gionet influenced him to go to law school at Harvard University.

“But what set him apart as a teacher was the way he inspired students who didn’t have the same interests as he did,” Goodhue said.

Gionet was selected as civics teacher of the year for Washington in 2013.

He taught practical skills, such as how to prepare taxes, make a budget or balance a checkbook.

“He wasn’t just a teacher. He was making people better,” said Marcy Bartelheimer, a 2014 graduate. “He was changing the world.”

Heidi Pike, the chairwoman of the social studies department as SHS, said Gionet’s colleagues now want to make sure his memory lives on. He always encouraged teachers, especially those who were new, to care about all kids, not just those in their classrooms.

Gionet set high standards and helped students learn along the way, said Pike, who knew him as her track coach before she became a teacher.

“It’s such a big loss but we’re blessed to ever have been influenced by him,” she said through tears.

“He was a doer,” said Ben Doucette, another SHS teacher. “When he saw a need, he jumped in and filled it.”

Amanda Cote, the assistant principal at Centennial Middle School, where Gionet coached football, was among those who shaved their heads to support him when he started chemotherapy. Even that they turned into a way to give back to the community by donating the money they raised to cancer research. “I hope people turn their grief into a lesson,” Cote said.

Other events are planned to honor Gionet.

A moment of silence is planned at the Snohomish vs. Glacier Peak football game Sept. 4. Gionet manned the clock at football games.

There will be a candle lighting at 9 p.m. Sept. 10. People can light candles wherever they are and post photos on social media.

On Sept. 14, students and staff are invited to wear white shirts and ties to school. The no-nonsense educator wore a tie every day and insisted students do the same when traveling for away games.

Amy Nile: 425-339-3192; Twitter: @AmyNileReports

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