After years of planning, memorial for Retter St. John displayed in Kennedy science hallway

By Tiffany He, Clarion Staff Reporter

Kennedy students and staff passing through the B-Wing hallway may notice a memorial display for late science teacher Retter St. John on the bulletin board. 

St. John, the first woman of color on staff, taught biology at Kennedy for forty-seven years.

According to Pocket News, St. John passed away on May 29, 2018 at the age 68 in Sacramento after a short illness. 

Because St. John was a deeply private person, there was no warning to many regarding her death.

In a collaborative effort, the science department and other Kennedy teachers have honored the dedication of St. John to Kennedy through the memorial display. 

Characteristics of the display include a plaque with a message about St.John’s history and service at Kennedy, an original photo of St.John in her younger years of teaching, and a recent photo. Eventually, a lab coat of St. John will also be displayed.

“Shewas well known for wearing her lab coat every day,” says Aaron Pollock, Kennedy science teacher and former student from the Class of 1995.

“Sometime during the summer is the only time I have seen her without her lab coat.”

David Indreland, Kennedy Manufacturing and Design teacher, did the laser etching for the memorial plaque, and points out that “in the photos [on the display], she never changed her outfit, from 1972 to that later picture a couple of years ago.  She still had the pens in the pocket.”

Pollock remembers St.John as a teacher with a firm demeanor and strict classroom rules, leaving many students to be afraid of her. However, St. John’s high levels of discipline and strictness didn’t affect her meaningful impacts on students. 

Pollock adds, “She was a very unique type of teacher.” 

“If you ask any of her students that have gone through her class, she was that way because she cared about her students.  They were required and driven by her will power to pass the class.”

Shortly after St. John passed, Pollock had mentioned to a district board member about naming the science department after St.John. Yet this did not happen as of this writing. 

Pollock also mentioned that there may be a telegram on file regarding St. John’s job offer at Kennedy. If it is possible to locate that telegram, a copy of it may be added to the display.

Indreland says that the thought process of the display was longer than expected, but putting together the display did not take long. 

Indreland recalls how the auditorium was filled with parents and grandparents at St John’s memorial in [year] during the visitation, leading him to conclude that, “the purpose[of the display] is just to remember her. She was a big part of so many.”

Kelsey Riley, who started teaching biology at Kennedy after St. John passed, says,” Even though I did not meet her, I feel a strong sense of respect for her because I am in her classroom.”

Riley had access to what St. John had left behind in her classroom and heard of the stories of St. John from her colleagues.

“I have a sense at least in my head, I don’t know how close to the reality of what she was like… I think she has been a very important figure at the school for a very long time, and this meant a lot to our students that she be recognized.” 

Riley recalls that drawers were untouched by anyone except for St.John when she first got to Kennedy. 

And, according to Pollock, St. John was very meticulous about classroom organization.

“If there is something like one little test tube or beaker out of place in the back room, she would let me know. Not that she was angry with me, just that [she believes] if you are going to touch [something], you have to put it back.”

Families that lived in the Greenhaven, Pocket, and Meadowview areas for multiple generations share the experience of having St. John as a teacher. 

“It was amazing to watch on the back-to-school night that parents would come and greet her, and have known her for so many years from the past…It is just a unique experience to have.”

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