|The following was written for a framed plaque I presented at La Fiesta School on my 40th birthday, to a small group of family and the school principal. Before that, the auditorium that bore his name had no personal connection for the students that used it. Sadly, due to budget cuts, the school was closed last year, but I’m told that the Michael J. Begley Auditorium is still used for other purposes. (I wish I had a photo to show you, but the pictures I do have are not digital, I haven’t yet figured out how to scan them. As it is, the photo I am posting is an iphone photo of a photo!). Dad, here’s to you and all the hardworking teachers and dads among us.
Michael James Begley, Sr., 21 February 1925 – 5 September 1974
Mr. Begley was one of six children born into an Irish Catholic family in Omaha, Nebraska during the Great Depression. He served as an infantryman in WWII, married and migrated to California in 1946. He, with his wife Betty, adopted three children while working and pursuing his education. He received his Bachelor’s Degree (Social Sciences/English) and his Elementary and Secondary Teaching Credentials from the University of San Francisco. He moved to Sonoma County in the 1960’s where he taught at Bayside School in Sebastopol, St. Vincent’s High School in Petaluma where his eldest son also attended, and John Reed School in Rohnert Park . During this time, Betty gave birth to their fourth child who later attended John Reed School at the same time that her dad taught there.
Mr. Begley was dedicated to his profession, colleagues and students alike. He was president of the Cotati District Chapter of the California Teachers’ Association where he was an advocate for teachers’ rights. He was well-loved and respected by his students who called him “a good teacher, a good human being”. He was a man of faith and conviction, known for his intelligence, sense of humor, positive attitude, and enthusiasm for organizing group activities, especially sports. He encouraged everyone to learn, participate and have fun. He had a sensitive and compassionate nature, coupled with a sense of discipline, personal and social responsibility.
Mr. Begley was a 6th grade teacher at John Reed School when he was diagnosed with cancer, had to go on leave, and subsequently died 10 months later at the age of 49. His fellow teachers donated their vacation days to him so that he could remain on the payroll, plus continue to receive medical assistance for his cancer treatment, thus completing his year’s term. After his death his students took it upon themselves to gather over 1,100 signatures from citizens in the community, door-to-door, in order to petition the School Board to rename the newly planned La Fiesta Elementary School after him. Their request was denied due to school district policy at the time, but they were offered the chance to have the multi-purpose auditorium named in his honor, which they accepted. When asked why they felt compelled to expend all the time and effort to pay special tribute to their former teacher, their response was, “He felt his students were important and we knew it.” And, “He always told us that if you believe in something, stand up for your belief. If you feel strongly about something, well, do something about it! And we have!!!”
So, from the family of Michael J. Begley, Sr. who miss him so much, we are proud of his life and legacy. We appreciate the support of all his colleagues and students, whom he also referred to as his friends. May this dedication serve as a reminder to be the best that we can be, to truly serve the people around us and, last but not least, to value and respect the teachers who are so instrumental in shaping our lives.
Maggie Begley – 5 September 2005
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