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Loretta Nordquist leaves Talent-Phoenix Schoolboard

TALENT — After three decades serving the community's most vulnerable citizens, surviving cancer twice and advocating for better schools, 85-year-old Loretta Nordquist is only just now showing signs that she might soon slow down.

Though most of the patients served by a program she administers, geared at helping weary caregivers, are decades her junior, the spry octogenarian is often reachable only by cell phone.

Given a third and terminal diagnosis in recent months and signed on for hospice, Nordquist just recently gave up downhill skiing, stepped down last week after 31 years as a Phoenix-Talent school board member and has been actively training her replacement after 25 years at Respite Services for Caregivers.

She's got some ideas on how things could be made better and a handful of "last lectures" of sorts she hopes will impart some of her trademark common sense to those she'll soon leave behind.

She's quick to joke that while her fellow school board members were the recipients of her "last lecture," she still could have a few more things to say.

Originally from Utah, Nordquist came to the Rogue Valley as a young adult, with her husband and retired dentist, Richard Nordquist.

While her first job was in medical technology, her second "job," would be to raise four sons.

Just as her fourth and youngest graduated from Phoenix High, Nordquist would find the two jobs she is now in the process of saying goodbye to.

In 1980, she joined the school board amidst trying times.

"There was a superintendent that wasn't popular with the staff or community so it came down to a recall and several board members were replaced," she said.

"Education has always been very important to me. My youngest had just graduated so, in one sense, it might not have seemed like a great quality, but I guess there would be less of a chance for a built-in bias if you don't have children in the district."

Nordquist admits her ideas aren't always the norm. Math, she said, is "this century's Latin," something she surmises will be eventually seen as less important than it's currently viewed.

"I look at national and local statistics that say 25 percent of our kids drop out of high school. Anybody that talks to kids realizes there are another 25 percent who are unhappy at school, which brings up to the fact that 50 percent of students really don't fit with schools very well," she reasons.

"With so much talk about budgets and state standards, there's never been much talk or attention on how can we make schools a better fit for those 50 percent of kids?"

She adds, "I don't fault the local schools or districts. They're caught in the national and the state requirements and trends but if we all could rear up on our hind legs and say, 'No, we have to make things better for kids, it would have to have some kind of affect for kids sake.' "

Doug Spani, business manager for the Phoenix-Talent District, said in the 20 years he's known Nordquist, he'd be hard-pressed to think of a better advocate for students. She's always been very dedicated and interested in what's best for the students; a very innovative thinker," Spani said.

"I hardly ever remember her missing a board meeting and she was always coming up with great ideas for better ways to help students."

Spani recalls Nordquist always telling him, at meetings that "involved eating," that he should eat his dessert first, in case he missed the chance.

In her role as coordinator for respite care, Nordquist has been equally proactive and dedicated, said Becky Snyder, executive director of Rogue Valley Manor Community Services.

A story that says much about Nordquist's energy level, Snyder remembers a call from her longtime employee and friend, to inform her she would have to, reluctantly, miss a day of work in recent years.

"She already had cancer at the time and she had been skiing and she called and said she wouldn't be in to work that day but that she would try to be back in the next day or two. I asked what happened and she said, 'I broke my pelvic bone and I have to go to the doctor.'" Snyder recalled.

"I told her, 'You were skiing? I thought you were going to give that up?' But she said the snow was just too good."

Snyder said, to look at Nordquist now, it's hard to believe she's even beginning to slow down.

As a tribune, Snyder said her agency would rename its annual volunteer award after Nordquist, who was modest about any sort of recognition.

While casually acknowledging she has begun "winding down a little bit," she's quick to relay information about volunteering for Respite Services and express hope that the community always care for students and seniors.

Her longevity and dedication to her community has been more a blessing in her life than something she views as service.

"I've just had good luck so I've been able to do these things," she said.

"Good luck is the only secret I know. If your health holds, that's a big part of what you can do. I've always just tried to contribute and use whatever abilities I had In a useful way to maybe do some good."

To view Nordquist's "last lecture," visit online:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dQt7DZnANQU. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5b_zmVeTjH8

To volunteer for Respite Services, call 541-857-7780.