by Michael Haran
Healdsburg Tribune Commentary 11/16/2012
After reading Shonnie Brown’s article about Joel and Renee Kiff I just have to comment on what Joel Kiff means to me. We moved to Healdsburg in September of 2006. I was helping out with the HFM annual pumpkin race when someone called my name. I turn to see an older gentleman who I didn’t recognize staring at me. I took a closer look and then said “Mr. Kiff?” He gave me a broad smile as I was coming out of my initial shock. It was not only fifty years since I had seen him how could he not only remember me but also recognize me after having taught hundreds if not thousands of students.
Joel Kiff was my algebra teacher and football/track coach at Marin Catholic High school from 1962 to 1965. I am the oldest boy in what was a very dysfunctional family of ten kids. Back then ADD was treated with corporal punishment and I became chubby using food to compensate for my lack of proper family support. I couldn’t even make the freshman basketball team I was so fat.
My grades were terrible and I was in danger of becoming one of the 36 boys in my class that either left the school or were kicked out. Most teachers didn’t have the time or inclination to work with marginal students. I remember Joel as one of the few teachers I had who would put in extra time with a failing student. I think it was more his calm demeanor and personal attention that had the biggest impact on me. Under his instruction the light went on and I “got it.” It was such a contrast from my family life and other teachers at the school.
Back in those days Catholic school football teams were hardly the juggernauts that they are today. We had 300 boys compared to the public school’s 1000. We consistently got trounced by the much bigger public schools. I remember Joel telling us that life isn’t necessarily about winning it’s about trying and the sheer joy of overcoming the odds against you. It made the game so much more fun for us even in losing. But you know what, we started winning a few games and it’s something I’ll never forget.
He talked to us about physical conditioning and how it was more than just getting in shape to play sports. He explained that good physical conditioning was important for a good life and that being in shape helps with the concentration you need to get good grades. To this day I can’t be sure that Joel’s attention, insights and kindness to me are what allowed me to go on and play for a USAF command basketball team or get a business degree from SSU but I think it was.
Joel and Renee have meant a lot to our Healdsburg community. Joel is in failing health now so whenever I see him I try to think of the high school experiences that we shared as student – teacher/coach and reminisce. I you know Joel you might want to send him a card. Thanks, Joel. This is what you mean to me.
Michael Haran is a resident of Healdsburg