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Teacher's 35-Year Job Fading Away
By Bob Pratte
The Press-Enterprise

Monday, December 10, 1990

Joe Richert was a young graduate with a master's degree during the mid-1950s looking for his first job when he happened upon his niche in the world at an institution then called the Desert Sun School.

A self-described loner, the Cornell University graduate found an ideal life teaching science courses nine months a year at the wooded Idyllwild campus and traveling the world during his three months off, so he never left.

He lived in free campus housing and dined with students. His life has been so centered around the institution, which is now called the Elliott-Pope Preparatory School, that when he sold his 20-year-old pickup last summer, its odometer read only 66,000 miles.

He now has a new, compact pickup truck that he figures to drive more than 3,300 miles per year. The only teaching position he ever has held and his home his entire adult life will disappear with this week's closing of the coed college prep boarding school due to financial ruin.

Richert, a bearded, professorial man, is a respected, hard-working teacher who was content to spend his entire career at a place he loves.

He is separated from his wife, Jennifer Andrews, following a long-distance marriage during which she worked as an actress in Hollywood. His 20-year-old daughter, Janna Richert, lives with him while attending classes at Mt. San Jacinto College.

He doesn't own a home, but at least he has invested a portion of his earnings in a retirement plan that he does not want to touch until he is 65.

At 59, he concedes his age probably will hinder his chances of finding a new teaching position.

"It's a strange thing," he said in his office off his well-equipped biology lab during a break from classes last week, "People are very solicitous and very concerned. They ask how I'm taking it."

He tells them he is not worried.

"We pretty much knew it was over at the end of the year," he said. "You could hope for miracles, but with the mismanagement, we had pretty much buried it."

At first Richert did not dwell on the demise of the school or completely accept the possibility. When the announcement was made in November that the school would shut down even earlier than expected, the dismal prospects of the future became reality.

"It's been a hairy three months, let's face it," he said. "The seniors can't graduate. The kids are angry. My associates are in the same boat. They are going through hell too."

Rumors persist that someone will bail out the school financially or buy the property. Richert has little hope that the school will continue under its present structure.

"I just hope this place remains a school," he said. "It would be difficult to see this place bulldozed and turned into one-acre lots for millionaires."

Richert first was numbed by the news of the school's closing and then angry. He now has accepted his fate and has no idea what he will do other than collect unemployment benefits while sorting out his life and 35 years of accumulated belongings.

For now he is helping his students finish the school's final term and preparing equipment in the lab in hope someone else will someday teach in his science building. He gave away his two 9-foot-long boa constrictors to a snake breeder and is trying to figure out what to do with his two large Pacific rattlers.

He really has no idea what he will do, but remains optimistic about his future, which I hope will involve teaching. He has a desire to stay near the Hemet area to be ear his father, Joseph Richert Sr.

He is able to laugh at a dream he had in which he saw himself in a shop at the beach wearing a long, funky beard and selling artifacts he collected during his travels to 45 countries while teaching at the school.

I've always respected people like Richert. He was able to recognize that he held a job and lived in a place that made him happy. He worked hard at a job he loved rather than follow the trail of ambition to a position he hated somewhere else. It's scary to see how a perfectly orderly life can be disrupted.

Somehow, he sees a bit of good in the abrupt end of his job.

"When you stay at a place so long, they may have to strap you in a chair and haul you out the door," he said.  He doesn't have to worry about that now.

And he doesn't seem disturbed about venturing from the shelter of the San Jacinto Mountains into a more conventional work world. He actually is curious about his future.

"I've never known anything else," he said. "I can't fear what I don't know."

Copyright: The Press-Enterprise

Copyright 1998 David Gotfredson