Longtime staffer’s death comes as shock to high school

Sweet Home High School students and staff members were shocked and saddened last week by the death of long-time staffer Ralph Valentine.

Valentine, 64, was a special education assistant who had been with the district since December of 1988, Principal Pat Stineff said.

Though he spent many years in special education, Valentine, a quiet, unassuming man with a bushy mustache, most recently assisted in math classes, she said.

“He was especially well known for his ability to help kids with math,” Stineff said. “He was the resident expert classified person in math.”

Toni Peterson, special education case manager for freshmen and sophomores, worked closely with Valentine and described him as “a great, great man.”

She noted that he also worked another job at the Alpha House, a group home for adults, since 1986.

Both she and Stineff emphasized Valentine’s “kind and gentle” demeanor.

“He was a person who was always willing to help,” Peterson said. “There was not a job he wasn’t willing to do and a kid he wasn’t willing to help.”

She said she received several dozen letters written by students to Valentine’s family in appreciation of him.

“Those who didn’t know him remembered him because he always had gum,” she said. “He was a person who always had smile on his face. He was kind to everyone. He was dependable. He was devoted. As an employee he was reliable but he was always there for the kids.”

Valentine, who served in the Navy in Vietnam, started his career with the district as an assistant working with a student at Foster School who has since died, Stineff said. Later he moved to the junior high, then on to the high school.

She and Peterson noted that he was one of the residents of an apartment building that burned 10 years ago, in which he lost all his possessions except an old Chevy Nova that he was still driving when he died.

“A lot of the kids remember him as the guy with the sweet ride,” Peterson said. “His car was burned in the fire but still ran. It looks today the way it did when it left the fire 10 years ago.”

She said Valentine hadn’t been feeling well before his death, but had stayed late after work and chatted with her before leaving for his other job, which started at 4 p.m. and ended at midnight.

Normally, she said, he was back at the high school by 7:30 a.m.

“The first clue was that the doors were locked,” Peterson said. “We assumed he had a doctor’s appointment and forgot to tell us. He checked our mail every day, brought us the newspaper, put on a pot of coffee and unlocked our doors. That was every day.”

“It was a big shock to all of us.”