Retired teacher works to provide life’s lessons outside |

Retired teacher works to provide life’s lessons outside

Appeal Staff Writer
Cathleen Allison/Nevada Appeal Retired teacher Marna Zachry and Isabelle Hamlin, 12, paint the background for the multiplication tables on a playground wall at Dayton Elementary School on Tuesday morning.

Even after her official retirement, teacher Marna Zachry has continued her 35-year tradition of going the extra mile for Dayton’s children.

Marna, husband, Tom, and members of the Dayton Elementary School Booster’s Club have spent several days this summer sprucing up the school’s playground, a continuation of Marna’s dream to make learning visual and interactive in a fun environment.

“When things are fun, kids learn and don’t even realize it,” she said, citing all the games the children have made up while playing on the outline of the United States painted prominently in the middle of the playground. “They begin to use their imagination and create new games all the time.”

Marna began teaching at DES as a substitute in 1972, when it was one building with overflow at what is now Dayton Community Center. She was picked up full time in 1973 and has never looked back.

“That’s why I feel so connected to (the school),” she said. “In those days sometimes I’d have the same kids for eight years and so many have come back to visit or I’ve taught their children.”

Living on 80 acres in Nevada was not in the original plan for the Zachry’s. Marna had graduated from U.C. Berkley with a degree in secondary education and a minor in anthropology. Tom had graduated from the College of Arts and Crafts.

One year driving through the area, they saw a sign, Tom said, that read “$10 down. $10 a month, less than $100 an acre.”

“I laughed and said who’d live here?,” said Tom, who retired from teaching at DES in 2000.

“Yeah, Tom and I came from Berkley armed with our Mother Earth magazines and bought 80 acres,” Marna said.

As a tribute to Marna’s service, the boosters decided to make her dream come true by adding a variety of elements, from hopscotch and handball courts to multiplication tables painted on a wall, to the blacktop and on surrounding buildings.

Dayton artist Terry Benson donated his time to paint the continents on one of those walls.

“Marna has always been there for these children,” said Lisa Selmi, booster and parent. “If a child has an outside interest she makes sure to attend at least one of their games or recitals during the year.

“This is the least we could do for her.”

Marna said the last thing that’s usually funded by the county is a school’s playground.

“Playgrounds create more opportunity for them to not only learn, but build social skills and friendships,” she said. “There’s a lot of important things happening on a playground, but there’s usually no money for that; it comes from the boosters and we have an amazing group that always comes through.”

Her many years in the profession has shown Marna that no matter what “kids are still wonderful,” but they face huge challenges.

“So many are raising themselves because of the mobility of our society and the breakdown of the extended family,” she said. “And we have great parents, but everyone’s learning as they go; no one’s being taught how to parent or there’s no support in place.

“Kids are struggling to stay kids and too often, see media representations of things they’re not ready for,” she said.

Marna and Tom raised their sons, Jake and Eli in Dayton and Marna teaches a confirmation class at St. Ann’s Catholic Church. She has volunteered in the past for the historical society and may do so again.

Mostly, she’s excited about days without structure.

“I do look forward to a day without boxes and bells, though I do believe freedom comes from organization,” she said. “But having a variety of things to do – reading, sewing and learning again who I am – that I haven’t had time for, without a bell telling me it’s time to do something else; I’m excited about that.”

Tom is also looking forward to Marna’s retirement.

“I love having her home and now we can get some of the stuff done around the property,” Tom said, laughing, “I used to think they were going to bury her in her classroom like they do with clergy in churches.”

A reception honoring Marna will take place later this summer, date and time will be announced.

• Contact reporter Karel Ancona-Henry at or 246-4000.