Ranson: Remembering my colleague Norine Arciniega

Norine Arciniega.

Norine Arciniega.
Provided to the LVN

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Sometimes in a small town, there are some stories that can’t be told in an objective third-person format.

My reflections on Norine Arciniega — a mother, teacher, community member who died on Feb. 22 — is one of those stories of a Fallon woman who saw and witnessed many of the events of this community for 70 years. For almost seven decades, the Arciniegas — Norine and Ed, who died in April 2016 — were the epitome of educators diligently teaching the next generations of students attending Churchill County High School.

Both Norine and Ed received their degrees from the University of Nevada, Reno in the early 1950s, and the Arciniegas moved to Fallon where employment awaited them. Ed became a coach and Spanish teacher at what is now known as the “Old High School,” a historic two-story building with manicured lawn that accents the community’s devotion to learning, and Norine became a fifth-grade teacher at the former Oats Park School, which is now a magnificent arts center.

The Arciniegas became parents of three children, and during those formative years, Norine became a stay-at-home mom, except for substitute teaching assignments, until she returned to the classroom fulltime in 1970.

Almost 38 years ago, my family moved to Fallon from Panama, where I had been an English teacher at Balboa High School, a Department of Defense school, and an Army reservist attached to the Southern Command (T.V.-radio) Network. The late Don Travis, the longtime principal of CCHS, hired me to teach sophomore English. My room was next to Norine’s, and in no time she was ready to help me navigate a new school.

Norine and I rapidly discovered we held the same philosophy about teaching English — ensuring students improved their skills in writing and reading comprehension and also developed a love for reading. With my strong background in writing and her background in literature, we began to collaborate our teaching by building on what we each taught for the subsequent grades coming to us in late August and leaving us in late May or early June.

When high school became a 9-12 school after relocating to the former Minnie Blair Building, Simmie Travis, Shelly Brewster and I began to coordinate our instruction with the ninth graders coming to my College Bound and Honors English classes the following year.

Likewise, Norine built on what both of us taught to our students, and Colleen Wilson, our department chair who taught English IV to the seniors, assembled all the instruction together so that students were ready to either tackle the university life or follow a career path.

All of us in the English Department recognized our strengths and capitalized on them. Norine loved literature, and not only had I developed my instruction of writing through the Bay Area Writing Project and several college professors who were tough as nails — to say the least — we found ways to make our teaching more creative and meaningful.

On a number of occasions, I felt at ease knowing Norine had taken me under her wing, but we also relied on each other’s strengths as educators. We assessed our teaching frequently, especially between classes. After my first year at CCHS in 1987, Norine and I were standing in the hall after the school year began.

“Some of the kids (from 1986-1987) said you were mean,” Norine said, trying not to laugh. “They haven’t seen anything yet.”

Norine may have been the motherly or grandmotherly type, but she was also relentless in pushing her students to do better than their best. We had our own methods.

But we were all like that with our college bound and honors classes— refusing to take late work or not yielding to sloppy work. Neither she nor I remember too many university professors who accepted late work unless a student was sick or there was a death in the family. Over the years, and even after Norine retired in 1992, we had students returning to the school or sending us letters thanking us for preparing them for college. Sometimes, we may have appeared as the lion tamers in a P.T. Barnum Circus.

Norine shared life’s lessons. We were both active in college, but she encouraged me to become involved with the Fallon community like I was with Wells when I taught there. Her words were backed up with her deeds of belonging to St. Patrick’s Catholic Church for more than 70 years, a bowling league, the Churchill County Museum board, the Churchill County Education Association and PTA and so many more.

Because her husband Ed or Señor was a highly recognized Spanish teacher, coach and athletic director, she saw many of those great teams and individuals in action from the previous four decades.

Before the start of my second year in Fallon, I was offered a part-time job by the late Anne Pershing, editor of the Lahontan Valley News to write sports. I discussed the offer with both Ed and Norine, and without hesitation, they strongly encouraged me to give a voice to Greenwave sports.

But my story with Norine doesn’t stop in the classroom because life always has its coincidences.

Both Norine and my mother attended Reno High School as I did in the late 60s. My mother was one year ahead of Norine, but they didn’t know each other … yet they knew many of the same classmates. Upon their graduations, Norine attended the University of Nevada, my mother took a year off and skated professionally in Europe before returning home to pursuit her career as a bookkeeper and accountant and as a mother.

When my mother died in 2012, one of the first cards I received was from Norine and Ed. The warmth of her words soothed my fragile feelings of the time, and they strongly encouraged me to remember those memorable and blessed times I had with my mother.

After Señor died in April 2016, I spent a late afternoon with the family with Mayor Ken Tedford, talking about Ed and learning more about the family from the different conversations and flipping the pages of scrapbooks and binders stuffed with articles and photographs. Excellent teachers like Norine and Señor and scores before and after them had one goal in mind: to make their students succeed.

We bid goodbye to Norine as we did for Ed eight years ago. Señor always looked ahead with optimism with the sparkle in this eyes, a warm smile and a strong, steady voice. His words of faith, though, are just as important as they were before he died and now with the passing of Norine.

“Don’t worry. The sun will come up tomorrow.”

Steve Ranson is editor emeritus of the Lahontan Valley News and a former English teacher at Churchill County High School.


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