Coach Connie (St. John) Preston Retires

 

It is impossible to document Connie’s career, contributions and family
ties in this limited blog. This will be but a glimpse of her role as a student-athlete and coach, and her family contributions to me and others.

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Connie (2nd row, far right) in GAA

The St. John siblings — Nancy, Connie and Bobby — all attended FHS during a time when girls had limited athletic opportunities. Connie and Nancy did the next best thing by joining GAA (Girls Athletic Association) to learn game skills. But this was not enough to satisfy Connie’s competitive spirit, so she broke barriers and became the first girl to play on a boys basketball team!

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Connie on the Boys Basketball Team

Being an excellent student and born leader, it was no surprise that she was also selected FHS Student Body  President. Connie also played  competitive softball and broke another barrier by becoming the first female baseball umpire hired by the KCHSD.

After college, her love for FHS and its students led her to return as a special education teacher and coach.

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The College Grad

During two stints at FHS, she coached volleyball, basketball and softball.  She also assisted with track meets, rallies, and created an on-campus “Champion” program to allow motivational speakers to inspire students.

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Connie’s adventurous mom and sister

Later Connie’s family moved to Alaska, and  my decision to accept their invitation to visit would become a defining moment in my life. When the St. John clan greeted my “bush plane” at the small Soldotna airport, it became the start of my Alaskan addiction that continues to this day.

Ned, Nancy, niece Lisa and Connie backpacking into Alaskan wilderness
Ned, Nancy, niece Lisa and Connie backpacking into Alaskan wilderness

Connie soon had me wading in the Kenai River learning to catch salmon. Nancy was soon leading me/us on a long hike into the Alaskan wilderness. We camped out, caught Grayling from a pristine lake, and slept out under the stars where we shared our space with the bears.

Mom Betty celebrates her 50th birthday, Alaskan-style
Mom Betty celebrates her 50th birthday, Alaskan-style…in the snow with an Iditarod dog sled team

When home in Soldotna, Connie’s mom Betty made super meals that usually included a variety of vegetables from her amazing garden.

Mom Betty's amazing Alaskan garden
Mom Betty’s amazing Alaskan garden

After dinner, Connie’s father Bob became my personal mentor on Alaska history and native way of life. While he spoke, I watched in disbelief as he deftly used his knife to carve a long wooden chain from a solid block of wood!

Dad Bob, a proud Navy vet
Dad Bob, a proud Navy vet

Bob was a Navy veteran  and I was an Army veteran, so it was natural that many conversations were also about patriotism and military history. He was the first person to make me aware that some of the most bloody, brutal battles between USA and Japan during WWII took place on Alaskan soil! He gave me a book “The 1000 Mile War: WWII in Alaska and the Aleutians”, that detailed these horrific battles that took place under the most harsh weather conditions.

Owen Leland Permenter
Owen Leland Permenter

This started my career as a WWII research buff, and later I was to discover I lost my cousin Owen Leland Permenter in these Aleutian battles. He was a 21 year-old Navy Fighter Pilot whose plane went down in the icy waters off the Aleutian Islands and neither the plane nor body was ever recovered.

Son Isacc
Son Isacc

When we further examine the St. John family’s military contributions it  goes well beyond the patriarch’s Navy career. Brother Bobby served in the Air Force, husband Jerome is a 5-year Marine vet, and Connie’s son Isaac is a 15-year Marine vet who did two combat tours in Iraq. A big Memorial Day salute to these men and all veterans who preserve our freedom.

Ned and Connie catching Kenai salmon
Ned and Connie catching Kenai salmon

Years later, I was invited to visit their secluded cabin on the remote Kodiak Island…..home of the biggest bears. We waded ashore from the plane and made our way to the cabin to find a bear had just gone inside and tore it up badly……it is called a “Kodiak Welcome”. Our two weeks there became a “Robinson Crusoe Experience”…..no phones, TV, radio, newspaper or electricity, and the nearest other human contact was 45 minutes away by boat.

Brother Bobby canning Alaskan sockeye salmon

Brother Bob provided the halibut which Betty cooked in her secret beer batter, added her homemade tartar sauce, and gave me the most memorable meal I have ever eaten. Connie and the boys picked berries, which Betty turned into jam and jelly to grace our morning pancakes.

After a week, Bob and I had to make the long boat trip to secure more supplies and propane. Going back, a storm battered our tiny boat with large waves that went over my head and took my camera and glasses into the treacherous, icy waters of Larson Bay. I felt much the same as George Clooney did in the movie “The Perfect Storm”. Feeling the boat would soon capsize I told Bob “Throw me a life jacket, and you better put one on too”.  The calm, composed  Bobby replied “You only wear a life jacket if you want them to find the body. We won’t last 5 minutes in this water”! This was my first experience with Bobby’s wry sense of humor, and Connie has a touch of it too. Connie watched this ordeal on shore through binoculars and can provide more vivid details.

Alaska is wild, beautiful and exciting, and because it can be very  unpredictable, it continues to lure me back all these years. I will be taking my two granddaughters on an Alaskan Cruise this summer.

Grandpa Bob holds Carli, with Isaac and Josh
Grandpa Bob with Connie’s children: Baby Carli, Isaac and Josh

This may not be the end of an era, as Connie’s daughter Carli graduated and plans to also become a special education teacher. Carli holds the reverse 440 track record at FHS for 6 year-olds, and was also an outstanding high school and college athlete. Do not be surprised if she also continues her mother’s teaching and coaching
legacy as well.

Isaac and Jannet Preston
Isaac and Jannet Preston

Isaac and wife Jannet hosted mom’s retirement party in their beautiful home. Numerous teachers  joined other friends to celebrate and  pay homage to Connie’s many contributions. It was a gala affair with great food, drinks, games, photo sessions, storytelling, and lots of  reminiscing.

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Retirement party grub

Connie is also recognized for her outstanding work in Foothill’s Hall of Fame. It is only fitting that her post-retirement project will be restoring all of the athletic banners so they can once again hang at FHS.

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Retirement celebration

Connie epitomizes my two favorite sport quotes: 1. No one cares how much you know, until they know how much you care. 2. A life not spent helping and serving others is a life wasted. Connie always cared and certainly did not waste her life.

The world is a better place because of Connie and the values her family instilled . She has been a true blessing to FHS, the Hall of Fame, countless students and co-workers like me.

Retirement celebration
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Retirement celebration

After she turns in her keys, cries a little, then Jerome is going to whisk her off to Europe for a well-deserved vacation. Connie and her iconic family have been a blessing to many who have looked to them as role models.  We all wish Connie many happy years in her retirement, and strongly suspect she will be seen at future FHS athletic games and functions. She definitely is the gal to  organize and restore the FHS banners and legacy. Thanks and Bon Voyage Connie!