Larry Hope never expected to find his passion in life deep in the jungles of Vietnam, as the battle between U.S. troops and the Viet Cong raged on.
But what started out as an assignment from his military superior turned into a rewarding teaching career on the North Coast that lasted a quarter-century.
“When I was in Vietnam I was the oldest guy in my unit at 23. It was pretty old to get drafted in that era. Quite a few of the fellas in the combat unit and artillery were not high school graduates, they were inner city and poor like the majority of people were then, so the captain asked me to help these guys get their high school diplomas,” explained Larry, who completed a year of teacher training after returning stateside.
“After my military service I was back looking for work in Washington and there was a Prince Rupert recruiting brochure while I was there, so I ended up moving up here. I always felt at heart I was a northwesterner, I’m just a little further north than I had envisioned.”
Larry’s arrival in Prince Rupert came at the end of a lengthy drive from the scorching heat of Arizona, where his parents were enjoying retirement following his dad’s career in nuclear research, and through the Okanagan. But, in true Prince Rupert fashion, it was not sunny skies and clear days that welcomed Larry to his new home.
“When I turned west from Prince George it was still hot until about Smithers when it started cooling down. When I hit Terrace it was absolutely pouring rain and the road was quite bad back then so it was a rough ride,” he said with a smile, adding he met some friendly Americans who took a very different life path to Prince Rupert.
“It was interesting, when I arrived in Prince Rupert, there were a number of people who came here to avoid military service and they were all my age. I had a lot of students ask if I was draft-dodger. There were quite a few and I’ve gotten along well with a lot of them who came here to avoid the draft.”
Larry began teaching high school during the 1974-1975 school year. It was, he recalls, a very different atmosphere than the community that greets newcomers today.
“When I came the fishing industry was going flat out and everybody was making money. The kids were making more money than I was and taking trips to Europe after working in the herring industry for 10 days during spring break. It was amazing the money people were making and it was all cash. That was an interesting time in a very unique place,” he said.
“We were a very resource-based community here where the places I had been before had been more based on industry that require more academic background. That was the difference. Here it was much more about the working man as opposed to the guy sitting behind a desk.”
It didn’t take long for Larry to realize he made the right decision by becoming a teacher, not only in the classroom but in any way he could to help Prince Rupert’s young people succeed.
“In any job, if you are enthusiastic and you like it the other people will be enthusiastic too. Part of being enthusiastic in this job is making sure that the students are enjoying it and it helps them on their journey. I get involved because I am interested in how they are doing and always have been. And a lot of teachers are, not just me,” he said.
“It’s very rewarding to see young people grow and find something they like. That’s the important thing. For me, and I hope I’m not in the minority, I get paid for work I enjoy. For me it’s like being paid to have fun, although not every day at school is fun. Some days it’s not.”
Ironically, it was also overseas as the first Prince Rupert teacher to participate in an international teaching exchange that Larry would meet the love of his life, Sandy Jones.
“We actually met on my teacher exchange in Australia and got married in the early 1980s, so it’s been over 30 years. We both ended up in the desert at the same time,” he recalls.
Despite having been raised in the United States and meeting his wife in Australia, Larry said the sense of community in Prince Rupert left little doubt that this is where he and Sandy would call home for the next several decades.
“People always ask, ‘why don’t you go back to here or here or here’ and I always tell them that when I am down there and go to Safeway, I never see anybody that I know. If I go to Safeway or Overwaitea here, I can’t go without seeing somebody I know. I like that feeling of community where it takes an hour to go shopping because you are talking to people,” he said.
After 25 years in the classroom, Larry Hope formally retired in the fall of 2009. But that hasn’t kept him from continuing to make an impact in the school system.
“I put myself on the Teachers Teaching on Call list, though we were substitutes in my day. I just told them when they are short I don’t mind going in, but I don’t want to take some young person’s spot,” he said, noting this new round of teaching has presented some unique opportunities.
“It is kind of fun to go in and see the children of former students. There were a couple today I was laughing with saying ‘there’s some stories I have about your dad’. That’s really enjoyable. I have some coming in saying ‘do you remember my mom?’ or ‘you taught my dad and now he’s doing this’. It’s still fun.”
And if you talk to one of his former students, chances are people will remember Larry not only for his dedication but for some of his wardrobe choices.
“I have always had odd collections, and that is one thing about being in the schools. For years I always wore these really weird socks, but people couldn’t see them so I got this collection of weird ties. Now the kids always ask how many ties I have and I actually have people bring them to me,” he said.
“I think these off collections is what some of the young people know me for.”
Larry Hope’s love of teaching has spanned 25 years and extended around the world and one can only imagine the impact his students have made on the global stage.