When a wildfire ripped through the Santa Rosa, California, home of two former San Diego-area teachers, it destroyed everything, including something sentimental to the couple: handwritten notes from students whose lives they’ve touched.
“When he teaches his class, I remember he had a bright attitude about everything,” said former Rancho Bernardo High School (RBHS) student Thomas Jung, remembering his former teacher, Terry Rowan.
“She didn’t just care about how you were doing in school, but how your life was going,” said former RBHS student Kourtney Jones, referring to her former teacher and Terry’s wife, Rita Rowan.
The Rowans – who were once named the staff standout “Cutest Couple” at RBHS by the class of 2007 – moved to Northern California after they retired from teaching.
This week, amid devastating and deadly wildfires in the region, their home burned to the ground. On Facebook, the couple posted a message saying they were not hurt but that their home was gone.
According to former students, one of the most unfortunate losses in the fire for the Rowans was the letters and notes given to them by students over the years.
Although those letters can never be replaced, former students are on a mission to send their support and words of appreciation to their favorite teachers.
Jones has organized a letter-writing campaign among her former classmates to send new letters to the Rowans.
“The Rowans spent years shaping our lives and building us into a community of caring, compassionate people,” Jones wrote in an email to her classmates. “Let’s show them how much of an impact they have truly had.”
Jones, for her part, planned to pen a letter to Rita.
“I definitely will thank her for her time as an educator and her care as a teacher,” she explained.
Rancho Bernardo residents lived through the 2007 Witch Creek Fire that claimed many homes in the community. The destruction in NorCal reminds them of the tough road faced by victims of wildfires.
In addition to students stepping up to show their support and love for the Rowans, staffers at RBHS told NBC 7 the school is collecting donations to buy gift cards to help the Rowans replace their belongings.
Many staff members said it’s the least they can do for two former colleagues who helped make them better teachers.
“Indeed, they are incredible human beings and when you put them together, they were an unstoppable force,” said RBHS teacher Holly Lecakes.
RBHS teacher Don Jones said he’s not surprised by the support the Rowans are receiving from their former students.
“That’s just speaking to our kids and how they would react to them, and that’s the impression those two people had,” he told NBC 7. “They wouldn’t hesitate to write a new letter – oh yeah, it may be different than when they were a kid, but it’s going to be heartfelt. They were both loved.”