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Teaching duo set eyes on retirement

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SNOQUALMIE - The old adage of, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it" could apply to Dick and Kris Kirby.

The two grew up, raised their own family, worked and will continue to live in the Valley after they both retire from their teaching positions in the Snoqualmie Valley School District this month. To them, the decision to live and work in the Valley was an easy one.

"We always liked the Valley," Kris said.

Both of them spent their youths in the Snoqualmie Valley. Kris' family descended from a Norwegian homesteader to the Valley, and Dick moved to Carnation from Nebraska in the seventh-grade. The two knew each other when they attended Tolt High School, both graduating in 1962, but they were never more than friends and went their separate ways after graduation.

Dick went to Central Washington University where he studied biology in hopes of becoming a game warden. When he found that prospects in that field were slim, he went on to get his teaching certification, but still spent his summers working for the U.S. Forest Service as a fire prevention technician.

Kris went right into teaching after graduating from the University of Washington, and later attended Eastern Washington University to earn her master's degree. She got jobs teaching in Monroe and Issaquah before coming to the Snoqualmie Valley School District.

"I always knew I wanted to be a teacher," she said.

Dick began his teaching career in 1967 at Snoqualmie Middle School, which was located in what is now the Snoqualmie Valley School District's administration building on Silva Avenue. He later heard that Kris had come back to the Valley and this time took the opportunity to call her. The two were married later that same year in 1972.

The following year the two moved into a home in Snoqualmie on Silva Avenue. The Kirbys had their first child, Kristen, in 1975, and son Jeremy followed in 1979. Kris took nine years off work to raise the kids, but returned to the district as a special education teacher in 1984.

Dick eventually moved to Snoqualmie Middle School when its present location opened, and then to Chief Kanim Middle School when it was built in 1991. During his entire career he has taught science and coached sports. Dick found himself after school on a field or court just about every day and in every season.

With employment in the Valley, a home close to work and two kids running around their beloved neighborhood, the Kirbys were content and didn't want to change a thing. But that didn't mean it was always easy. If it were not for the extra money Dick made coaching sports, the family's children would have qualified for low-income lunches, especially when Kris wasn't working. Dick liked his job in the forest service in the summer, but he also came to depend on the income.

"We would hope the woods would catch on fire," Kris said.

Low pay and other work conditions motivated Kris to become involved in the district's teacher's union, the Snoqualmie Education Association (SEA), where she served stints as both president and vice president.

"If you want to get something done, you've got to do it yourself," Kris said.

The Kirbys said teachers' pay continues to be their biggest concern regarding their profession, especially for younger teachers. Both have said they have routinely seen teachers leave the district, state, or profession altogether because teachers' pay in Washington is so low.

As the Kirby's kids became more independent and started to leave home, Dick became more involved in the community. After the 1990 flood, Dick served on Snoqualmie's Flood Task Force and on the city's Planning Commission. He was later appointed to the City Council for a 2-year term, and was elected to a 4-year term that ended last year.

Whenever they can find the time the two are also antique collectors and sellers. Each year they travel back East and hit antique shows and bring back a trailer full of goods. Dick also has a business on the side selling collectibles on eBay.

"We always said there was never enough time for school [with all the other activities]," Dick said.

That was a main reason the couple decided to step down from their teaching jobs at the end of this year. They said they have never felt better about their jobs. The schools and staff are supportive and they love the classes they teach. Getting a chance to leave while they still feel on top of their profession is an opportunity the Kirbys said they don't want to pass up.

They plan on using their free time to continue scouring for antiques that are now filling their new home, which is right next door to their original house. The Kirby's original house is now the home of daughter Kristen and her family, and is also where Kris will help her daughter run a new preschool business. Both Dick and Kris are involved in the Snoqualmie Valley Historical Society, where they said a mountain of work awaits them.

So although their teaching jobs are over, the Kirbys can say not much has changed. They are still in the same town and their family is still close. They have more neighbors now than when they first moved to Snoqualmie, but they can still walk to the store to get a gallon of milk. They are also excited about all the new babies they have seen in their neighborhood.

"There must be something in the water," Dick said.

It seems as though the Kirbys plan on staying awhile.

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