As Benicia Middle School students get into the swing of the new school year, something significant is missing. Ron Garcia, PE teacher of 32 years, has retired. Ron also coached wrestling for all ages for 25 years, high school football for four years, and middle school track and field for ten years. Ron’s genuine care for his students and the community made a difference in many family’s lives for over three decades.
At the end of the 2017/18 school year, Carol, Ron’s wife, coordinated a party for him at the middle school gym, where he and former BHS Industrial Arts teacher, Jamie Calderwood, conceived and built the gym’s rock climbing wall in 2002-3. Former students’ colleagues and friends were there to see him off, along with the dedication of a new plaque above the climbing wall for Garcia and Calderwood.
When Garcia recalls the story of how the climbing wall came about, it’s clear that the wonderment of how the community came together around its creation still hasn’t warn off after all these years. Ron’s love of rock climbing went back to the 1990s, a love that he shared with Calderwood. Ron says, “Jamie loves to build things. The gym was pretty new at that time and we were talking about rock climbing, and he suggested we build a climbing wall. I couldn’t even image what that would entail, but the more we talked, the more we convinced ourselves it could be done.”
It took three years of research to come up with a basic plan for funding and construction. Ron says that they originally proposed a budget of $4,000 to the site counselor, which was approved, “through a leap of faith.” But as Ron tells it, the story gets interesting when the project went way over budget—this is when the miracles started. From boxes of the expensive diamond drill bits needed to drill hundreds of holes in the concrete anonymously appearing on his doorstep (to this day he still doesn’t know from whom), to friends in the construction business lending special tools, to people who knew his family way back randomly donating services, something always worked out.
Ron recalls it with amazement that still seems fresh: “Every single time we ran into a project stopping situation and we had no money, somebody just came through and it was donated or just showed up. It was a truly amazing testament to the community and the power of people coming together to accomplish something.”
He and Jamie planned to build the wall over Christmas break in 2002, but ended up working every weekend and through summer vacation, often with hosts of friends, family and student volunteers. The wall was finally completed for the start of the 2003 school year.
When asked what moments in his career he looks back on most fondly, Ron says, “It’s my relationships with the students. That’s what I remember the most by far.”
And to young folks who may be considering careers in teaching or coaching, he says, “Go into it because you love people, because you love kids. If you truly want to have a job that brings meaning to kids’ lives, I can’t think of a better profession than teaching. The connections you make with people are priceless. If someone in your life tells you that you made their life better, I can’t think of a better use of your time and efforts.”