I am always a little cautious when I receive a voicemail message claiming to have a “great human interest story idea” with no additional details but “call me back.” That was a message I received a couple weeks ago from Dwight Crosby.
Crosby is a retired teacher from Woodinville High School and used to teach with Grace Hofrichter. He went on to say “I ran into Grace recently, and she told me she was still substitute teaching. She retired 18 years ago and is still subbing!” He added, “She is 88 years old, still as sharp as a tack and has a great attitude.”
I agreed, it would make a great story, and I reached out to Hofrichter.
To say Hofrichter has spunk is an understatement. She may be all of 4’10” on a good day and claims to be shrinking every year. But what she lacks in height, she makes up for in personality.
She graduated in 1957 from Central Washington with a degree in Social Studies. Ironically, a professor in school tried to dissuade her from this major by saying “that degree is for men.” Grace was not deterred. She also earned her masters in counseling from Seattle University in 1977.
Shortly after graduation in 1957, Hofrichter started teaching at Shoreline when only freshman and sophomores were at the school.
It is amazing what she has seen, heard and experienced in over six decades of teaching. After only spending an hour with her, I’m quite certain Hofrichter’s life could easily fill the pages of a book.
When she started teaching, she said, “I had to take an oath saying that I was not part of the Communist party.” The nation was just coming out of the McCarthy era, and everyone was on high alert regarding the presence of possible communist spies and sympathizers in our country.
She shared stories about attending a summer program at Stanford University in Palo Alto, California in 1960 when the students were all required to dress up (women in dresses and men in ties) for guest night on Thursdays. Students had to abide by nightly curfews, and if they missed them they could be locked out for the night – that even happened to her once!
In the early 60’s, instructors often picked out their own teaching materials and books. Hofrichter enjoyed teaching units incorporating literature, and two of her favorites were “The Jungle” by Upton Sinclair and “Looking Backward” by Edward Bellamy. These weren’t always popular choices with parents in the district, but she thought they were significant pieces of history, and it was important that they were shared.
I asked her what it was like to be teaching on the day that John F. Kennedy was assassinated. “I was teaching at Shorecrest High School then, and we only had one TV in the school. I had it reserved for my class that day although I can’t remember why. [When the news was reported] the students did not move. They were mesmerized.” She noted that Prom that had been scheduled for later that week was immediately canceled.
She added, “It was the most impactful thing I ever saw.”
She has always taught high school students and loves it. “Every place has been wonderful,” Hofrichter said. From her start in Shoreline, she moved to Shorecrest, then Bothell until the new high school in Woodinville opened in 1985 and finished her (full-time) teaching career there. Woodinville High School (WHS) is also the only place that she substitute teaches now.
I jokingly asked why she didn’t act like a normal retired person and knit. Hofrichter said she traveled a bit with her sister after her initial retirement but after she passed away it wasn’t as easy. “I get restless,” she said. “I don’t knit, and you can only play Free Cell and read so much.”
Hofrichter enjoys spending time with her daughter and her three granddaughters that live nearby. She also has two grandsons that live in Ohio near their mother. Her son died in 2000 of pneumonia at 31 years old.
Overall, she said that she is grateful, and although she’s been a teacher the better part of 60 years, she said, “I’m getting older but I’m not old.”
Since retirement there have been some setbacks to her health, but again overall Hofrichter feels very fortunate. She said, “I feel good.” She commented that longevity runs in her family and she comes from ”good genes.” She also said she sleeps ”like a log” which she knows helps her to stay healthy and active.
Just as Hofrichter loves teaching and her students, they love her. She noted that they are always very respectful of her.
A case in point was an invitation she received to participate in a recent school assembly organized by Student Body President, Megan Rogers, and the Assembly Committee at WHS.
Hofrichter is all to familiar with assemblies as in her teaching heyday, she was tasked with the added role of organizing them at a couple of the schools she worked at. That’s why she was happy to accommodate the request to participate in a “Star Wars light saber battle” during an assembly last month.
The scene involved a large group of teachers with Hofrichter coming out at the end of the battle (light saber in hand) and bringing them all to their knees. Rogers said, “The student body went absolutely crazy when she came out, people were already cheering, but they started jumping up and screaming when she won!”
Rogers added, “I am absolutely astounded by Mrs. Hofrichter’s contributions to the Woodinville High School community. As students, we love to have her in our class, and we are all hoping we can be as active as she is one day. So incredible!”
Hofrichter plans to continue subbing and will as long as she stays healthy and can continue to drive. “I’ll do it as long as I can,” she said.