Each year, the BEACON Senior Newspaper honors the dedicated men and women of the Grand Valley who volunteer to make our world a better place. Our readers nominate individuals who contribute their time, skills and special talents to our community. All of these volunteers go beyond the call of duty and perform outstanding acts of service. We are grateful for every one of them.
In addition to recognizing these volunteers, we ask our readers to cast their votes for the BEACON Volunteer of the Year, an award that honors an individual who sets the standard for community service. This year, our readers chose Pat Brinegar, a retired elementary school teacher who, fueled by her love of teaching, continues to help out her daughter Allison McAtlin in her first-grade classroom at Pomona Elementary School.
A love for teaching
When Brinegar was a young woman she dreamed of teaching home economics to girls in Sitka, Alaska. She got the idea during a presentation at her church that featured a slideshow of Sitka and the wonders (and needs) of Alaskan living. With this end in mind, she went off to the University of Nebraska to obtain her degree. After a run-in with college chemistry, however, she decided she might want to rethink her long-term plans.
“Chemistry and I did not get along,” Brinegar said.
She felt bad for abandoning those girls in Alaska, but she really didn’t want to spend two years of her life chained to the periodic table. She switched to speech therapy for a while, and finally found her true home in elementary education.
In 1958, Brinegar and her best friend moved from Hastings, Nebraska to Denver to teach for the yearly stipend of $3,200. Not long after, her then-fiancé, now husband, Dee Brinegar, joined her in Denver. They lived there for 10 years, but had friends in Grand Junction they visited quite often.
“Every time we left to go back to Denver we would say that Grand Junction seemed like such a nice place to live,” Brinegar said.
Brinegar’s husband, Dee, obtained his master’s degree and landed a job working for the biggest CPA firm in Denver, and was on the verge of a partnership when the company sold and he decided to look for a new job. An opportunity arose for a partnership in Grand Junction, and they jumped at it.
“We didn’t even sleep on it,” Brinegar said. “We put a ‘For Sale’ sign in our yard that afternoon.” They were ready to move to the Western Slope. That was 1968, and they’ve been here ever since.
Like mother, like daughter
Brinegar taught for several years in Denver before taking a break to start a family. When they moved to Grand Junction, the Brinegars had two young children and a third on the way. Several years later, when the youngest, Allison, started first grade, Brinegar was ready to go back to teaching as a substitute. Years later, when Allison went off to college, Brinegar returned to teaching full time.
For the next 15 years, except one that she spent at Appleton Elementary, Brinegar taught third grade at Nisley Elementary under the principal Ernie Lax, for whom she expresses a sincere respect. She loved the students at Nisley Elementary, and said she still runs into them around town. She’s always delighted to see them, and has even gone to some of her third-grade students’ college graduations.
Her daughter Allison nominated Brinegar for Volunteer of the Year. She followed in her mother’s footsteps and also chose elementary education as her profession. Eventually, she ended up teaching first grade at Pomona Elementary.
Six years ago there were some changes in the school district and classroom resources were stretched. Allison found herself with 31 students in her classroom, six of whom needed special attention of some kind. When her mother discovered the situation, she knew she had to lend her daughter a hand.
Brinegar started going into the classroom three mornings a week to help with reading and writing.
“The kids call her Mrs. B,” Allison said. “They love her, and she just connects with them.”
She helps the students do make-up work and takes an advanced group once a week for reading.
“But she does a lot of behind-the-scenes work, too,” her daughter added. “She does things an outsider might not think is any big deal, but it makes a huge difference in the classroom. For example, she collates all the math worksheets at the beginning of the year, which saves lots of class time, and she takes home pencils and brings them back sharpened. It may not sound like much, but it’s huge.”
Allison also commented on the connections her mother makes with many of the students.
“She’ll check up on them, have lunch with them and just keep a relationship going, even after they’ve moved on from my class,” she said.
Making the classroom her
While Allison now teaches a more manageable number of students, Brinegar continues to help in the classroom on a weekly basis.
And she still loves the work.
“I love working with the little children,” she said. “It’s just such a miracle to see the progress they make in the first grade.”
Brinegar remembers when her daughter was getting her teaching degree and would shadow her in the classroom.
“Sometimes I hear her say something exactly as I used to say it,” she said. “On the other hand, she sometimes corrects me, too. Things have changed over the years, and some things are just done differently. We have a great rapport in the classroom, but as far as I’m concerned, she’s the boss.”
For a retired lady, Brinegar is a busy woman. She’s in a bridge club, does water aerobics and is a member of not one, but two active book clubs. In addition, she has recently moved to a new house and is busy making it into a home.
“I had originally wanted to do home economics when I went off to school because I was very domestic,” she said. “Home has always mattered to me.”
Brinegar has spent a good deal of her life making the classroom her second home. Being in the classroom with her daughter and helping children learn and thrive gives her purpose.
“I look forward to going to school because it’s nice to feel like I am still accomplishing something,” Brinegar said