When it comes to hours spent teaching and coaching students in Washougal, the late George Cass is arguably the all-time record holder.
The beloved, curmudgeonly Cass, who worked for the Washougal School District as a teacher and coach for more than 50 years, died June 26 at the age of 76.
More than 150 people turned out July 27 to the Washburn Performing Arts Center at Washougal High School to help memorialize and celebrate Cass’ life.
The memorial guests told “Mr. Cass stories” and paid tribute to a man known as a unique educator dedicated to his students, family and community.
Cass started teaching in Washougal in 1966, working at elementary and middle schools, before settling at Jemtegaard Middle School, where he taught science for most of his career.
He also coached sports teams, including basketball, football, track, softball and the school’s first soccer squad, from the ’70s through the early 2000s.
“He was an interesting man,” said Rick Scott, a retired middle school counselor and coach who worked with Cass for 10 years in the ’70s and ’80s. “What I remember most about him is that, when he got to coach, he was just ecstatic because he always wanted to be one.”
Cass enjoyed keeping his students on their toes. Jon Friedrich, who was in Cass’ eighth-grade class in the 1970s, recalled how Cass used the crack of a ruler on his lecture podium to keep students focused.
“One day he broke (the ruler),” Friedrich said. “We thought we had heard the last of the crack, but Mr. Cass goes to the old utility closet, unlocks it and pulls out one of three (rulers) he had in there. Then he goes back to the podium cracks it even harder, and says, ‘This will do. Now where was I?'”
Thomas Kelly, another former student, recalled the slapping of the rulers as well.
“And yelling,” Kelly said. “He could somehow yell at the students without hurting their feelings, too.”
Local athletes discovered Cass’ yells reached even higher volumes on the football field and the basketball court.
“His bark was far worse than his bite,” said Jeff Kinart, who had Cass as a teacher and basketball coach.
Students remember that it was hard to pull anything over on Cass.
“Halloween night, a group of us decided it would be a fun idea to soap his windows,” said former student Sherie Campbell. “He greeted us with a garden hose as he sat on the roof waiting.”
Cass didn’t stop caring or encouraging his former students after they became adults, either. He wanted to know how former students were doing years after they’d left his classroom or sports field.
Many of his students over the past decades had parents and even grandparents who were also his students. Laurie Croll James recalled going into Cass’ classroom to sign some papers for her son, who was a student.
“Laurie Croll?’ Cass said. “Am I teaching second-generation kids?”
Born in Wallace, Idaho, Cass attended Hudson’s Bay High School in Vancouver, where he was an athlete and an accomplished musician. When Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass held a workshop at Hudson’s Bay, Cass was selected as one of the students to play french horn and trumpet with the famous jazz band.
He earned his teaching certificate from Central Washington University and later earned a master’s degree in science.
He taught in Washougal from 1966 to 2001 and was a substitute teacher for another 15 years.
Cass is survived by his wife, Lana, and daughter, Erica, of Snohomish, Washington. Memorial donations can be made to the Washougal Schools Foundation or West Columbia Gorge Humane Society.