A man of many talents: Teacher, cartoonist John Carr retires after 37 years of teaching in Nevada City
Special to Prospector
Dr. Jean Creasy has been friends with local educator John Carr since she was 15. The pair grew up together in Southern California and it was Creasy who introduced Carr to his wife, Margie, and is the person to thank for bringing a brilliant and dedicated teacher to Nevada County. After nearly four decades, Carr’s tenure in the Nevada City School district ended upon his retirement this past Friday.
Creasy has high praise for Carr, “Seeing and knowing what kind of teacher John is, makes me very proud to be his friend,” she said. “If the walls of his classroom could talk, they would tell countless stories of him encouraging his kids.”
Carr graduated from college with an art degree, but quickly realized he would have to look for another path to employment. He first taught sailing at San Diego State and UC San Diego while still in college and found he enjoyed it, so decided to get his credential. Throughout his many years in the vocation, Carr has taught all elementary grades, but he found his “sweet spot” teaching first graders at Deer Creek Elementary in Nevada City, incorporating his love of art and music into the required curriculum.
Creasy said, “John is an accomplished pianist and played regularly for his students, introducing them to classical as well as classic rock selections. He also introduced them to giving back through community service, rehearsing, and singing holiday songs and show tunes for the elderly living in local nursing homes two times each year. His students would also perform for school assemblies, something other faculty looked forward to as well.”
She continued, “John shared his love for visual art with students every year, teaching them painting and drawing skills. He also introduced his students to the Spanish language, teaching what he modestly referred to as his ‘Bar room Spanish.’”
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Former school secretary Gail Beitz said, “John embodied that perfect combination of caring firmness and positivity found in only the best teachers. He always found a way to encourage kids, even when they got in trouble.” She also fondly recalled the homemade muffins Carr brought each Monday to share in the teachers’ lounge, a tradition that became known as “Muffin Mondays.”
In addition to instructing elementary students, Carr is known to many readers of The Union newspaper for his “Carrtoons,” the comics which have appeared regularly within these pages for more than two decades. Carr has been drawing the characters most of his life. He would create his own Christmas cards each year and one of those caught the attention of then editor John Seelmeyer, who asked Carr to contribute a cartoon each week.
“It started with Clinton and Santa Claus,” Carr explained.
Reluctant to have his many talents featured in an article, Carr balked at being put in the spotlight but did say he would miss the many funny incidents that happen frequently with his students and of course, his colleagues.
His colleagues will be missing John as well. Retired first grade teacher Mary Zezulak enjoyed the “vibe” in Carr’s classroom so much, she volunteered as his classroom aid. “John really put his heart into his work,” she said, “He was a fabulous teacher who leaves big shoes to fill. They (the students and staff) are really going to miss him!”
The self-admitted techno-phobe said he is ready to step aside to make room for teachers who are a bit more comfortable in Zoom meetings. He said, “The technical computer aspect of it is more prevalent and it’s not my favorite thing. I had younger friends at work to help teach me to do the Hollywood Squares, as I like to call it, with the kids.”
He added, “Every class has its challenges and I think parents have a more difficult job than ever these days. The computerized social media is making it a more complex world and kids don’t need complexity but they are handling it well. It’s (parenting) a tough job, that is for sure.”
Monica Daugherty, Superintendent for Nevada City schools, said what really stands out about John is the “personal touch” he brought to the vocation. “Throughout his over 37 years of teaching in Nevada City, John would make time to call each student’s family and check in at least once a month. That is a lot of phone calls.” She added you could always find Carr at the door of his classroom on school mornings kneeling to greet each student at eye level.
While his teaching days may be over, Carr is leaving a lasting legacy at Deer Creek Elementary, Creasey said, “Over the years, John has been purchasing and planting shade trees on an otherwise blank slope of grass adjacent to the blacktop playground. In an annual ritual, he directs his students in digging the holes, amending the soil, planting beautiful deciduous trees, and attending to their watering. From this intentional effort, the trees are steadily growing to their full and awesome potential. In much the same way, his students will no doubt grow to their best potentials, happily enriched by a year spent in his exceptional classroom.”
Creasy added, “This is likely not the retirement week finale that he had envisioned during his many decades of teaching at Deer Creek Elementary School in Nevada City. No ritual class ‘pool day’ at Pioneer Park, no end of the year celebrations with students and no fabulous last day of schoolteacher’s party, often hosted at his own home.”
Carr said, “I feel lucky that I got two thirds of a normal year and that is the part I will remember.”
Asked what he would like to be remembered for Carr responded, “I hope they thought that it was fun. To me, if kids are having fun, if they don’t hate coming to school, if they like it, then that’s 90% of it.”
Those who know and love John Carr will be able to visit him at his new part-time position at SPD market. “I love SPD. They are the greatest store for our community, and I am going to be working half time there which will be kind of fun. I will get to see all the kids still… for about two minutes.”
Dr. Jean Creasey contributed to this story.
Hollie Grimaldi Flores is a Nevada County resident and freelance writer for hire. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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