Lynne Castellanos: Just Doin’ What’s Right

Everyone who ever came to Dunn Middle School during the years when Lynne Castellanos worked there knew her as the amazing woman they encountered in the front office. No sense trying to describe her job — she pretty much took care of everything and everyone, and she did it all with competence and love. It is impossible to exaggerate the affection and respect Lynne engenders. Most of the kids described her as their mother at school, and their love for her was evident. She has since moved on to other kinds of work, but everything she does is consistent with the values she has always espoused. It is an honor to be Lynne’s friend.

My full name is Lynne Charrisse Weston Castellanos, and I was born in Virginia on July 8, 1959. But when I was your age, I spent most of my time in Germany in little towns near the Czechoslovakian border, mostly. My father was a Lieutenant Colonel in the Air Force and a base commander a lot of the time. We had to move about every two or three years. I started first grade in Germany, and after about three years, we went back to the United States. Then we went back to Germany when I was in ninth grade. I became fluent in German. In fact, my sister, who started school in a German kindergarten, could only speak German. She was the only American in the kindergarten, and after about three months, she couldn’t speak English anymore. She basically thought she was German. But when we came back to the United States, she couldn’t continue studying the language, and so she’s since forgotten it.

We did a lot of unusual things in Germany. My dad was the commander of the base, and we were always on small bases near the border, because he worked as a radar controller, so his job was to have his crew monitor the air space and make sure there was no enemy aircraft coming into the American-controlled part of Germany. So we were in small towns, and although we lived on base, we would always eat downtown and take advantage of the culture.

I didn’t have a horse, but we went horseback riding. My dad knew that if we had a horse, we would insist on taking it home with us, and it would be very expensive to ship it. So we took riding lessons but we didn’t get to buy a horse. We rode at an old castle that was kind of in ruins, and there was an indoor riding arena. It was really pretty. We were the only Americans who rode out there. Everyone assumed we would be cowboys, so we worked really hard to prove that wasn’t all America was. I was about twelve then. It was in the early sixties.

Both of my parents were from the South: mom was born in North Carolina and my dad was born in Virginia. My mom went to a private girls’ college and she was the youngest of four kids and the only girl in her family. At her college, you had to be very lady-like and wear white gloves and a hat when you went outside. If you did anything wrong, the punishment would be you had to polish all the brass railings in front of the school on a Saturday — when boys from other schools might be walking by. That was considered a huge embarrassment. Obviously, she grew up very differently from the way things are today. My dad was at another college and they met while he was in R.O.T.C.

My dad knew from the beginning he wanted to be an officer, so he did special training to become one. He went into officer training school right away after college. I think he was a Major the first time we went to Germany.

I was proud of my father, but I thought it was normal. It wasn’t anything really special to me, but looking back at it, it was strange how I’d be walking down the street with my dad, and everybody saluted him. Everyone on the base worked for him, so walking even from here to the office, there might be fifteen people saluting him. It was a little weird.

And it was a little bit hard sometimes as a teen-ager, growing up with your dad as a base commander. All around were soldiers, G.I.s, younger guys, but we weren’t officially at war, and things were pretty relaxed. So anything I did got reported to him immediately.

Christmas in Germany was wonderful. There was usually a lot of snow. We had two Christmas trees – one was the kids’ tree, and the other was my mom’s perfectly decorated tree — and there were a lot of parties. My mother had to entertain because she was the base commander’s wife, so she held parties, and there were dignitaries from foreign countries. They were just normal people.

I want to go back someday. I don’t know what it’s like now, but when I was there, sometimes we would go places and we were not welcome because we were Americans. We were in somebody else’s country and in a strong position — we meant well, but you don’t want someone else running things in your country. And sometimes Americans aren’t willing to change our own ways, and we don’t adapt well to other cultures. So it took us a while to show the German people that we wanted to visit their homes, get to know their ways, and be like them. A lot of military people would stay on the base and never venture out into the rest of the country.

It was a military life. Every two or three years, everyone around me would move. Sometimes it was hard. My best friend stayed in Germany until two years ago. The last time we lived in the same place was when we were in eighth grade. We still see each other about every seven or eight years. She moved back to the United States two years ago and got married, and now she lives in Virginia.

We traveled all the time when we lived in Germany. You know how your parents come home and they might say, “What do you want to do this weekend?” Well, my dad would come home and say, “Do you want to go to France this weekend, or do you want to go to Spain, or Greece?” I thought that was normal. I thought that’s how everyone grew up.

I liked Spain, although I don’t remember it really well. I wasn’t looking at it the way my parents wanted me to. They wanted me to see the culture, and we went to all the castles and art galleries and museums, but I didn’t think it was anything special, so I treated it kind of like you would treat a trip to Santa Barbara. I just liked it.

I have one “real” sibling, my sister, and she’s three years younger than me. But my parents are really open and their home is always open to people who don’t have families or who are away from their families. So I have an unofficial brother named Tom who takes care of my parents when I’m not there, and another brother named Clyde who also takes care of them.

My sister lives in Sacramento and works for the youth authority. My parents live in Elk Grove, very close to Sacramento.

My parents are my heroes. They worked really hard to get where they are, and it’s hard for them to see how the world is changing. Chantalle is their only grandchild, and they would spoil her if they could. But they see her snowboarding and doing judo, and doing so many things girls didn’t do when they were young, and it makes them nervous. I admire them for supporting us and trying not to show their worries so much.

I was going to be a veterinarian. I made up my mind. I knew what school I wanted to go to, and didn’t even apply to any other schools. If I had completed the whole thing, it would have been four years of college, and then vet school. But I realized along the way, that I didn’t really want to be a veterinarian. I just wanted to work with horses, and they were telling me I had to take classes about pigs and cows (and I’m afraid of cows because they don’t listen to you) so I decided that wasn’t really what I wanted.

I was going to school at U.C. Davis, so I switched my major and was no longer pre-vet. Instead, I did Animal Science and Genetics, and I graduated from Davis, and I wanted to get a job on a horse farm, on a breeding ranch. So I graduated, but I didn’t really know how to get a job. But because I graduated from a good school, I had a lot of offers from all over the country. One farm called me from New York and wanted me to come out for an interview. But I was only nineteen. (Don’t hurry through school!) I didn’t have the money for plane fare just to see if they liked me, and I was getting really discouraged, but two farms in the Santa Ynez Valley called me the same weekend and invited me for an interview. So I said, “I’ll just take one of those jobs.” And I got both of them, so I picked the one I wanted.

I got out of the horse business because it’s really hard. It’s twenty-four hours a day. And Chantalle was two and a half, and I was working all the time, and she never got to do anything with me. So I quit. My boss made me really mad one day, and I quit.

Then I had a store in town for a while. Kid Stuff. I dressed most of you when you were babies. I couldn’t find clothes I liked for Chantalle, so I opened a store.

I sold that business and retired for a while. I did some volunteer work at Los Olivos, and then Chantalle was coming to school here, and Ben asked me to take a job here. So I was a parent here before I worked here.

I met my husband, René, on a horse ranch. Remember, I came from a very traditional background. One day, this old beat up car drove onto the ranch, and these three guys got out who looked just horrible. They looked like they had just come in from downtown L.A. and robbed a store. Their car had run out of gas someplace on 101. They came to the ranch to do some odd jobs to get some money to put gas in their car and go up to San Francisco. The two guys who were with René spoke only Spanish, but Rene spoke English and Spanish, so they hired him right away, even though he didn’t know a thing about horses. Once they drove up, everyone on the ranch thought it was time to start locking our doors at night. The other two took off, and René stayed, and he loves horses to this day. So he worked for me for a while.

I am a stubborn person, but I’m trying to get better. I’m persistent, I’m determined, and I have integrity. I try.

And I read a lot, but I don’t have any hobbies. I’m so busy with Chantalle, and taking care of things at school. A perfect day? I guess it would be to wake up really early, have a good cup of coffee, go back to bed, and read some books. I like having nothing to do.

But what makes me happy is seeing you guys every day.

My advice: Always do what you know is right, even when no one is looking. It’s really hard sometimes. But you have to do the right thing no matter what.

And don’t be mean. I try to follow this in my own life. I try not to do mean things to people, or be unfair, and then I never have to worry about being caught or about people saying things behind my back.

The children here are very forgiving. I’ve known a lot of these kids since they were little. Some of them came to my house for reading group. I used to do tutoring, too. In fact, I still have one student, who’s in seventh grade now. To be honest, I don’t think he needs a tutor anymore, but he thinks he does. He likes the cookies and the cheese bread.

Almost every day at work is a good one. And when I leave here, I want to do more to help kids. I think you guys are really fortunate to be here, but I want to help kids who are not as fortunate. I want to do something more with my life after I retire.

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