Retired Oakdale High School Principal Rick Jones is far from slowing down since his last day on campus at Oakdale High School in 2009.
While he was present early in the week to help out with OHS graduation practice, he was not present at the Corral Thursday or Friday evening for the first time in nearly two decades. The retired educator spent close to 30 years as an educator in both the Bay Area and Oakdale. He served as Vice Principal and Principal at Oakdale Junior High from 1989 to 2001, when he was offered the position as Principal at OHS.
Now, post retirement, he fills his days enjoying traveling with his wife Barbara and exploring his hobbies of fishing, golfing, photography and working in the garden.
“He’s a very good vacuumer,” wife Barbara said of their adjustment to his retirement status, citing that while day to day life has changed, he manages to keep himself plenty busy.
“He’s now discovered the yard is more than mowing,” she added, noting his enjoyment with working in the garden.
“I wanted to take the first year off entirely,” the retired principal stated, explaining that he had passed on any offers of contract or consultant work.
Jones began his retirement by completing his chemotherapy treatment for a recurrence of lymphoma.
“The thing with lymphoma is it never goes away,” Jones said. “It just became active again.”
Jones began that treatment in April of last year, and it concluded in August. He shared he now feels fine.
With treatment behind him, the couple began planning their retirement travel plans, starting with a trip to the Ukraine to visit Masha, an exchange student the family hosted the year that Jones retired.
The couple said the student’s mother was getting married and had extended an invitation for them to attend. During this late September, early October trip, they took in the sights of Kiev, Lviv and Yalta, all under the guidance of their exchange student.
“She traveled the whole time with us,” Barbara said.
Not new to Europe, but first time visitors of Ukraine the Jones’s left the planning of the trip up to their 17-year-old guide. Grateful to their guide, the couple could not help but point out the feeling of ‘romanticism and adventure’ that stemmed from having much of their travel conducted on trains.
Their train travel across the Ukranian countryside ranged from 10 to 26 hours to reach their destination points.
“She is very proud of her culture and her country,” Barbara said of Masha. “She was totally our guide.”
The Oakdale couple enjoyed taking in many of the historical sights during their stay. However, it was the country’s economic state, which left a strong impression, pointing out that a meal for three set them back $11 (US) and a Heineken beer cost 65 cents (US).
Recalling their train trip across the countryside, Jones shared his amazement at the villagers who were awake at all hours of the night offering their wares at the various train stops. “All the trains were full,” he said of the potential audience for the villagers. “Each train we rode was between 12 to 20 cars, depending.”
For the couple, getting to share in Masha’s mother’s special day was unique.
“One of the most memorable things was the wedding,” Jones said.
He told a story of a mass ceremony held at the government hall for those exchanging vows.
“Then they all head to the parks for their pictures and go off for the party,” he said. “It really was something.”
Before returning to the US the couple flew from Yalta to Amsterdam for a little rest and relaxation. While there, they enjoyed bike riding and additional sightseeing.
Another travel first for the retired principal was a trip to New Zealand in early spring. Wife Barbara’s sister, Brenda, has lived there for over 30 years and while Barbara has been to visit, this was the first time for Mr. Jones.
They spent the first few days with family, then rented a car and navigated their way on their own. Mrs. Jones’ sister guided them post departure, on where to go and what to see and then they spent 28 days driving.
“We never stayed more than two nights in one place,” Barbara said.
Jones admitted that driving on the opposite side of the road was an adjustment, however he found driving in the foreign country to be relatively easy.
“The traffic keeps moving,” Barbara said. “Signs on the side of the road are less advertising and more safety oriented.”
“We drove on a lot of little country roads and there is rainforest all around you,” Jones said. “The diversity is breathtaking.”
Testament to the diversity, Jones shared his experience of walking through a rain forest only to be greeted by the sight of a large glacier off in the distance.
But it was perhaps their trip to the Bay of Islands, which will remain most memorable in years to come, as they recount their trip to friends and family.
The couple had decided to take a boat tour of a seaside beauty spot known as Black Rocks. According to Jones, the water was rough that day and the guides had indicated that due to the weather the trip might not live up to the tourists’ expectations. After a bit of debate the couple decided to just go for it. Little did they know, that decision would place them in position to witness a once in a lifetime occurrence.
As the boat toured the waters, a school of dolphins were spotted swimming at an accelerated rate toward the boat. Before they knew what was happening an orca (killer whale) catapulted a female dolphin out of the water, ultimately snapping her back and later devouring her.
“I thought that’s what you saw,” Barbara said of the experience. Adding she did not realize the uniqueness of the situation until they returned to shore and heard the news and saw the newspapers.
Jones, with his camera at the ready, caught the entire encounter frame by frame.
It is reported that the incident happened between 50 to 100 meters from the boat and that witnessing an occurrence such as this is a one in a million chance.
“It was on the national news for two days,” Jones said.
Comparing the differences between the two countries the couple has explored is almost like night and day. From the language, to the cleanliness and the economy, the differences between the Ukraine and New Zealand are blaringly obvious, they said. Clearly two different vacations, each with its own set of unique memories.
So what’s up next for the retired principal and his wife?
“The idea now is to get a fifth wheel and travel through North America,” Jones said.
As for the void left from his past life as an educator, Jones said, “I miss the socialization with the staff and with the kids.
“Other than that we are able to fill our days pretty easy.”