Surprise party: Silverton High School salutes St. Elmo – with Pictures

February 2010 Posted in People, Photo Gallery

By Kristine Thomas Elmer Valkenaar and his wife, Lolita, at the Jan. 25 assembly as the entire student body gathers to honor him in a surprise birthday party salute. Included was a “This is Your Life,” slide show, and performances by the choir and dance team. Cake and Elmo cookies for everyone followed.

See below for more pictures of the special school assembly event.

He’s the guy wearing a woman’s old-fashioned swimsuit who waded into Silver Creek to retrieve ping-pong balls for the Silverton Hospital Auxiliary’s annual fundraiser.

And, he is the “Voice of the Silver Foxes” calling the fouls, rebounds and baskets at the boys’ and girls’ basketball games. Since 1983, he’s been a beloved substitute teacher at Silverton High School.

To his friends, he is Elmer. At Silverton High, he is St. Elmo.

While he may wear different hats, Elmer Valkenaar is consistently an eager supporter of the Silverton community. The community is equally enthusiastic about him.

On Jan. 25, SHS students and staff gathered in the gym for what Valkenaar thought was a pep assembly. The crowd knew it was to celebrate Valkenaar’s 80th birthday.

To thunderous applause and cheering, Valkenaar was called to center court by SHS teacher Marie Traeger.

Wearing a straw hat, an Elmo T-shirt and a black jacket with “St. Elmo” on the back, Valkenaar declared he didn’t know “what all the yelling was about.”

“Elmo, this assembly is all about you, to celebrate your birthday,” Traeger said as the gym erupted.

The SHS band, dance team and choir performed for the celebration and there was a slide show. Guests were treated to white cake with rainbow sprinkles and Elmo cookies – all made by students to feed 1,200 people.

Teacher Jim Brueckner presented Valkenaar with a letterman’s jacket on behalf of the students, staff and community.

“I absolutely can’t believe this is happening,” Valkenaar said. “I just have, and always will, love all of you.”

Valkenaar’s list of accomplishments is varied. He grew up in Waukegan, Ill., and graduated from Michigan State University in 1952. He served in the U.S. Air Force working on a radar site in Vermont and worked as an electrical design engineer designing missiles for General Dynamics in California. Valkenaar began his teaching career at the then-Catholic high school at Mt. Angel Abbey.

“The students were giving me a bad time because I wasn’t named after a saint and they teased me about becoming Catholic,” he said. “I got the name St. Elmo, who is the patron saint of sailors.”

He has worked as a nurse’s aide, a real estate broker and a bed and breakfast owner. He was the first boys’ soccer coach at SHS, even having two girls on his team when he began in 1986. He was a throwing coach for the track and field team. He’s volunteered at The Oregon Garden and Silverton Area Community Aid.
For 25 years, Elmer Valkenaar – St. Elmo – has announced Silverton High School basketball games. He\'s also a substitute teacher at the school.
Valkenaar received the Distinguished Service Award from the Silverton Chamber of Commerce in 2001 and was the president of the Silverton Hospital Auxiliary in 2008-09. The auxiliary received the Oregon Governor’s Volunteer Award in 2008.

Judy Schmidt, director of volunteer services at the hospital, worked with Valkenaar as a volunteer and when he was the president of the auxiliary.

“He’s just a wonderful person,” Schmidt said. “He’s an incredible advocate for so many organizations including the hospital. He’s just one of those special people who makes a difference in everything he does.”
Traeger has used Valkenaar many times as a substitute teacher in her classroom.

“He is someone who will do exactly as you wish,” Traeger said.  “Whatever I need to have taught for the day, he is OK with it. He has more energy than most of our staff and all of our students. Silverton High is a better place because of Elmer.”

Senior Cambria Roth said one thing she believes describes Valkenaar’s character is the story he has told students about “how he gave up his seat on a bus to a black woman in the 1950s and almost got arrested.”

Whether he is teaching or at a basketball game, Roth said Valkenaar means a great deal to the students.

“He is probably one of the most fun, most sarcastic substitute teachers around and it’s a blast when we get to have him in the classroom,” Roth said.

For 25 years, he has been a substitute teacher and the announcer at basketball games.

“People always ask me why I don’t retire from substitute teaching and I tell them if I did I would drive my wife (Lolita) crazy,” he said.

Before the varsity games, he asks the crowd to stand up for the National Anthem and gives a kindly yet stern command to “please remove your hats.” “Once, someone didn’t, so I said ‘you in the white hat, take your hat off,” he said.

The first SHS player he saw dunk a basketball was Scott Gragg.

“Now we have Taylor Burton, and he does it all the time and I still get a thrill out of seeing it,” Valkenaar said.

Silverton High Athletic Director Greg Kaatz said Valkenaar is a foundational part of school athletics.

“Ask anyone around town, especially our coaching staff, student athletes, and parents – they will tell you that he is friendly and reliable, and seems to be always available when help is needed,” Kaatz said. “Elmer is irreplaceable.”

Teacher Kirsten Barnes, varsity volleyball coach, said it doesn’t matter what type of classroom Valkenaar is subbing in, “he is always there for the students and he will make a connection with them.”

“As the Voice of the Foxes, he encourages athletes throughout the day, talking to them about the games and matches that have recently taken place,” Barnes said. “Elmo’s energy is inspiring and most students hope to be like him when they are 80 years old.”

Flabbergasted that he was fooled by staff and students, Valkenaar said “everyone is entitled to at least one surprise in their life.”

“I am absolutely dumbfounded and always will be,” he said. “The luckiest person in the world is me.”

Sorry, comments for this entry are closed at this time.