MARYSVILLE — Several years ago, Mike VanDaveer noticed a Cedarcrest Middle School student in need of lunch.
So the longtime teacher and coach lent a helping hand.
Every day for three years, VanDaveer brought an extra lunch to school and placed it in the student’s locker. It wasn’t until the last month of eighth grade that the student found out who was behind the anonymous deed.
Such acts of kindness are commonplace for the big-hearted VanDaveer.
“He’s the most generous, selfless person you will ever meet,” Cedarcrest secretary Stacey Hoffman said. “He does so many good things around here that people don’t even know.”
“He’ll give you the shirt off his back,” registrar Dot VanBeek added. “He’ll give you his last dime. If he thinks you need something, you will have it. There’s no doubt.”
After gracing the Marysville community for more than three decades with his endless generosity and compassion, VanDaveer is heading into retirement.
It will mark the end of a 45-year teaching career for the beloved Cedarcrest icon, who spent the past 32 years teaching and coaching in the Marysville School District after venturing west from his native Montana.
VanDaveer spent those first six years at Marysville Middle School, then moved to Cedarcrest when it opened in 1991. He said the opportunity to teach and coach at a brand-new school was a “dream come true.”
“I’ve been here for a long time,” VanDaveer said. “And I’ve enjoyed every minute of it.”
VanDaveer plans to serve as a substitute teacher next year before completely stepping away. His retirement plans include spending time with family and checking off bucket-list items with his wife.
“I’m 68 years old,” VanDaveer said. “I said to my wife, ‘We’ve got some things we’ve got to do before we can’t. So let’s do it.’”
As news of VanDaveer’s retirement spread, emails and phone calls from former students have come pouring in for the teacher affectionately known as “Mr. V.”
“He’s such an amazing guy,” assistant secretary Kerrie Brickman said. “Anywhere you go in Marysville, any student that went to Cedarcrest, it’s the first thing they’ll say: ‘Is Mr. V still there?’ Everybody has an amazing story about him.”
“He’s pretty much a hero to a lot of kids,” fellow teacher Dan DeWitte added.
VanDaveer primarily taught physical education and health during his 26 years at Cedarcrest, and occasionally filled in with other subjects when needed. He coached four sports at the middle-school level — football, wrestling, volleyball and track and field — nearly every year since arriving in Marysville.
And he’s long been the voice of Marysville Pilchuck football, serving as the Tomahawks’ public address announcer for about the last two decades.
“He’s kind of the Cedarcrest godfather,” district athletic director Greg Erickson said. “He’s just that real dependable, gigantic-hearted person. He’ll be missed. The kids will really miss him.”
Connecting with kids through sports
One of VanDaveer’s greatest attributes has been an ability to connect with students, each of whom he gives a nickname.
“He just tries to connect with kids on so many different levels,” VanBeek said. “And that’s rare now. If (teachers) have that, it’s amazing, because that’s truly what makes a difference. We can teach them and teach them and teach them, but we (also need to) connect with them and make an impact in their lives.”
For VanDaveer, sports have always served as an avenue to forge those meaningful connections.
VanDaveer developed an enormous sports memorabilia collection over the years, ranging from autographed sports cards to bobblehead dolls to Ken Griffey Jr. keepsakes.
The stockpile of memorabilia once filled VanDaveer’s garage, and still takes up a sizable portion. “This is where the cars are supposed to be,” he said, pointing to a photo on his cellphone.
But over time, VanDaveer has given away much of his collection.
“He’s always giving something out to kids,” Erickson said. “He’s always got cards in his pocket, so if a kid’s having a bad day or does something right, he’ll give a kid a baseball card.”
For the entirety of his time at Cedarcrest, VanDaveer has filled and restocked a display case at the school with his memorabilia. Every week, Cedarcrest holds a drawing for those items to reward students who displayed qualities such as positivity, respectfulness and determination.
“I use that stuff to connect with people,” VanDaveer said.
He remembers one particular student who was struggling prior to a conversation involving a Ken Griffey Jr. baseball card.
“He was a Ken Griffey Jr. fanatic,” VanDaveer said. “I had the Upper Deck card and said, ‘How bad do you want that?’”
“Ah man, I’d love to have that,” the student replied.
“Well, take it home and put it on your dresser,” VanDaveer said. “If you don’t graduate high school, you’re going to have to give it back.”
The student went on to graduate and paid tribute to VanDaveer during the ceremony. As he was walking to receive his diploma, the student looked at VanDaveer, held up the Griffey card and smiled.
“The connection I had with the sports stuff could turn kids around,” VanDaveer said.
A special coach and announcer
VanDaveer’s impact extended to coaching, where he was beloved by athletes and described by Erickson as “the cornerstone of the Cedarcrest athletic program.”
“(It’s) the little things,” Erickson said. “He’ll make sure the field is set up and looks good. He makes sure that if you need something for the game, then it’s there. He’s just solid, someone you can just completely count on and depend upon when it comes to making things flow.”
And as a coach, VanDaveer has always placed kids first.
“If he had an (assistant) coach that had a little bit more expertise, it’s not an ego thing for him,” Erickson said. “He’ll step aside and let them do their thing, and he’ll do whatever he can to support them.
“If we have two coaches and there’s a third guy who wants to help, he’s split his stipend. He’s a team player. He wants his kids to have a successful experience.”
VanDaveer was recognized by the Washington State Football Coaches Association last fall as the District 1 middle school coach of the year.
He plans to continue coaching volleyball and track for one more year to combat a lack of coaches.
“Sports is the part of education that you have a chance with every kid,” VanDaveer said. “You can get the non-students to study, and the good students you can get to work hard.”
Even some who’ve never met VanDaveer might recognize his deep voice, which fills Quil Ceda Stadium on Friday nights and has become intertwined with Marysville Pilchuck football.
“Definitely a recognizable voice,” Erickson said. “When people come to Marysville and watch a Marysville Pilchuck football game, his voice is something you connect with Marysville Pilchuck.”
VanDaveer’s passion sometimes would take over on long touchdown runs, when occasionally he’d slide into more of a play-by-play role. “Just remember now, you’re announcing the game — not the play-by-play,” Erickson would remind him.
“But he does a great job, takes a lot of pride in it and definitely connected with our stadium and football program,” Erickson said.
VanDaveer plans to announce the Tomahawks’ first two home games next season before passing the microphone to his replacement during the annual Berry Bowl between Marysville Pilchuck and Marysville Getchell.
“I’ve thoroughly enjoyed it,” VanDaveer said. “I can see why (longtime Los Angeles Dodgers announcer) Vin Scully went until he was however old, because it’s just fun.”
‘He’s going to be missed’
For his first 16 years in Marysville, VanDaveer worked a second job delivering 500 newspapers every morning before school.
“I’d go to bed around 9 p.m., get up around 1 a.m., deliver papers, take a shower and then head to school,” he said.
VanDaveer developed that work ethic — and became accustomed to early mornings — while working on farms as a kid in Montana.
But perhaps even more notable is the compassion and generosity he learned from his mother while growing up.
“To give back is the way we were taught as kids,” VanDaveer said. “My mom said to all of us, ‘If you don’t do something nice to somebody every day, you’ve wasted that day.’ And that’s what she did her whole life.”
Judging by the numerous selfless deeds his colleagues have mentioned, VanDaveer certainly has lived by those words as well.
He’s bought new shoes for students who couldn’t afford them. He’s covered the cost of sports physicals for kids who couldn’t pay. And he seemingly always had food for students who needed a bite to eat.
“I think that’s how he’s lived his life, looking for nice things he could do for people to help them out,” DeWitte said. “He’s always giving. He has a big, giving heart.”
“We just love him to pieces,” VanBeek added. “He’s going to be missed.”