Back home again: Born and raised in Nevada County, these four have returned to their roots
Special to The Union
They say “the grass is always greener on the other side of the hill” but ask those who grew up locally and they will tell you that Nevada County might be the fairest of all places to be raised.
Area residents can rightfully boast of great schools, boundless recreation opportunities and exceptional youth enrichment activities. It comes as no surprise that county demographics now show a number of young families returning when it comes time to raise their own children.
The grass on other hills may have been worth exploring, but when it comes to setting your own roots, for these four there is no place like home.
Dr. Amanda (Mandi) Robinson is one of the latest in the crop of returnees.
She attended elementary school in Penn Valley, participated in 4H and FFA, raised livestock and generally enjoyed the life of a Nevada County kid. She served as the salutatorian for the graduating class at Nevada Union High School in 1994 and after attending Sonoma State University, was accepted into the University of Michigan School of Dentistry and took advantage of the opportunity to live out of state.
Perhaps in order to defrost from four Michigan winters, she and her husband then settled in San Diego, started a family and enjoyed the sun and surf.
Eventually the pull of Nevada County life and abundant opportunities for young families drew them back. They worried that their two school-aged sons might object to leaving the beach behind, but the promise of wide open spaces, raising animals and unlimited fun with cousins turned out to trump the allure of surf.
Robinson joined the Nevada City dental practices of Drs. Jean and Craig Creasey and Justin Pfaffinger who welcomed the help of a local colleague with several years of experience and a focus on prevention and whole mouth health.
Robinson said she fondly remembers when Pleasant Valley School was K-8 grade and the lasting influence of teacher Jeff Miller, who made learning fun. She says that at Nevada Union Mr. Ken Ramirez was the first teacher to inspire her to push herself academically.
She decided on dentistry “because it provides a great combination of my love of science and my hobby of arts all while making a difference in people’s lives. I was first intrigued with dentistry when a family member fractured their tooth and our childhood dentist repaired it so that you couldn’t even tell it was ever broken. Dentistry also provides me with a professional career that tends to have a more flexible schedule in regards to still being an involved parent for my children.”
For many, moving away from home helps define who you will become. Father Seth Kellermann, another Nevada County returnee, spent considerable years living away before seizing an opportunity to return.
His high school years at NU were marked by time spent on ski slopes, soccer fields and traveling on medical outreach trips to far away lands with his father, local physician, Dr. Scott Kellermann. He chose Washington and Lee University in Virginia for college but was not your typical undirected freshman. He had certain convictions even as a young man.
He had a certainty that he wanted to marry his high school sweetheart, Tara Fergeson, and serve his country in the U.S. Army. He also knew he wanted to become an Episcopal minister. And in that order.
After university, he served in the Airborne Rangers, a division for special operations in Afghanistan for four years before entering divinity school. Kellermann certainly took a road less traveled to reach his vocation, but fortunately that road eventually led the family, with their four young daughters, back to Nevada County where he serves as “priest in charge” at Emmanuel Episcopal Church.
Kellermann recounted how, as a newly minted priest, serving the diocese of Dallas. Texas, his heart broke a little every time his young daughters would remark on the “concrete mountains” they perceived the freeway overpasses to be. He and Tara knew then they had to find a way back to Nevada County’s real mountains and rivers. Now serving as rector at Emmanuel Church for 10 years, the Kellermanns enjoy watching their daughters compete for the Nevada Union ski team on the local mountains, just as they did. Seth and Tara say they also relish their relationships with old friends and the fun of watching them raise their own families, finding humor in the fact that they are all now sitting in the “parent seats” at back-to-school nights.
After living away for several years, attending college in Ohio and then working in management for Nordstrom Corporation, fourth generation Nevada County native Jessica (Sears) Echternacht now manages the busy medical practice of Drs. Pritchett and Bouchier.
She laughs that her early education in Nevada County, with all of its “sampling of schools,” might be described as very “Nevada County-ish”. By the time she started Nevada Union, she had attended Nevada City Elementary, Mt. St. Mary’s Academy, Deer Creek Elementary and then did home-schooling.
She cites standout Nevada Union teachers Mr. Clyde Lehman (Shakespeare) and Mrs. Alex McDowell (chemistry), who taught her that difficult subjects could be fun and that, in the face of academic setbacks, second attempts can be highly successful.
During high school, Jessica worked at Tour of Nevada City Bike shop where she was mentored by owner Connie Strawser, who became her dear friend. She was also a star on the varsity rifle team, and competed in the Junior Olympics. Her grades and shooting ability garnered offers from several colleges, but she based her choice on a place that was “far enough away that no one at the grocery store would know her whole life story.”
Now as a busy young parent, Echternacht jokes that SPD Market is a central part of her social life. Ironically, living near family, having a deep sense of community and history are the very things she missed most about Nevada County. Indeed the things that make her the most happy these days ended up being here all along. Even her husband, Cameron, whom she met back at Tour of Nevada City Bike shop.
For Allie (Moulton) Anderson, who returned a few years ago from Portland Oregon, growing up in Nevada County meant early morning swim workouts and the camaraderie of the Penguin swim team. Her world is once again perfumed with a hint of chlorine scent, and happily so, as she now finds herself as head coach for the Penguins, now called Northern Sierra Swim Club.
She remembers all of her teachers at Deer Creek, Seven Hills and NU as exceptional, but it was Mr. Steve Belch who truly stands out.
“He was a master at building character and self worth. He fostered such a special, cohesive class,” she said. “Plus, we went on amazing field trips. He is the kind of teacher that stayed in touch and gave us graduation gifts six years later and was a really special part of our lives.”
Allie said “Our draw to live out of state was both financial and adventure based. Portland had a reputation for being a young, fun, affordable city, full of music, art, food, and beautiful surroundings. We did enjoy our time there but when it came time to settle down with our family, we craved a smaller-town feel and also wanted to be near family.”
Regarding her current post as head swim coach, she says “It’s special to tell my swimmers I did what they are doing; it’s even more special to coach the kids of people I coached 15 years ago. When I was not living in Nevada County, what I missed most was the seasonal beauty. I know it’s cliche, but the Yuba in summer can’t be topped, nor can the snow in the winter. I also missed living close to my parents and sisters.”
While each of these Nevada County natives followed a unique path to adventure in the broader world, all have returned to Nevada County for similar reasons — reasons that perhaps once drew their own parents here to rear them.
Jean Creasey is a local dentist who lives in Nevada City and is a frequent contributor to The Union.
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