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A History of Success, A Future of Promise

Karen Richards

​​Halls of Fame

"You have brains in your head.
"You have feet in your shoes.
"You can steer yourself any direction you choose.” Oh, The Places You'll Go! by Dr. Seuss, pub. 1990 

Karen Gardner Richards

In supporting Karen Richards' nomination for the 2010 Hall of Fame, alumnus Doug Davert (Class of 1985) recalled, "In the early 1970s, Karen Richards was my third grade teacher at Del Norte Elementary School in the Tustin School District. I largely credit Mrs. Richards with fostering my love for learning and giving me much of the foundation that has led to my successes as an adult.”

Karen was an educator in the Tustin Unified School District for 37 years, and was named Teacher of the Year for 2002-2003 at W.R. Nelson School. Doug, who was inducted to the Hall of Fame in 2008 , was serving as a member of the Tustin City Council when he attended the Tustin Public Schools Foundation's Teacher of the Year Awards Dinner in 2003 honoring Karen.
Remembering the teacher he loved in third grade and also what he observed in more recent years watching Karen in action in the classroom, in his letter Doug recalled, "Most striking to me as a 40-something adult was seeing the same caring, professional, and enthusiastic teacher who made third grade such a positive experience for me more than three decades earlier.
"...she has dedicated a long and successful career to helping young students in one of Tustin's, and Orange County's most diverse communities. She insisted on academic excellence, to the best of every child's ability, no matter their background or family situation.
"Karen Richards is a distinguished Santa Ana College graduate who, for nearly four decades, has been one of Orange County's everyday heroes.”
Karen entered Santa Ana College after graduating Santa Ana Valley High School in 1965 and says, "As a freshman, I took a class that orients you to college life. That class gave me a solid footing; I knew if I followed the plan outlined in that class I could be out of SAC in two years and on my way to a four-year college and a Bachelor's degree.
"I knew I wanted to be a teacher from 'way back when' and I was ready to do whatever was necessary to reach this goal."
Initially, Karen planned to teach physical education, but later changed her major to social science.
However, she did not change her emphasis on having fun and serving others by participating in several clubs, one of which sent boxes to soldiers serving in Vietnam – and successfully sponsored Karen as a candidate for  Homecoming Queen in 1967.
Karen believes, "Everything you do has a ripple effect.
"Santa Ana College was the most wonderful, happy place, and we were so busy having fun. When my sister heard I was being inducted into the Hall of Fame, she laughed hysterically and said, 'Who would have thought you would receive this honor when you were a flag twirler?'"
She also felt nurtured and supported by her instructors, especially a science teacher and Coach Dick Gorey. "I remember feeling that I really mattered to them, that they really knew who I was, and that if I showed up and really put in the effort, they would do everything they could to help me succeed. But it was ultimately up to me: as Dr. Seuss said,
'You have brains in your head.
'You have feet in your shoes.
'You can steer yourself any direction you choose.'” 
In 1968, Karen married Tim, the man who was her date to the 1967 Homecoming Dance. She later earned her teaching credential and a B.A. degree from California State University, Long Beach, and in 2003 earned her Masters of Arts in Teaching from Grand Canyon University.
In 1992, Karen received the "Who's Who Among America's Teachers" award, and in addition to her many achievements as a teacher, Karen also has been honored for many accomplishments that also improved instruction, safety, and the school environment.
Yet, like other dedicated teachers, it is her influence on those she taught, including her three sons, that is most important to Karen.
In her letter of nomination, Melody Vaught said, "Each year, Karen shared her Mission Statement with the parents of her students at Back-To-School Night: Whet Their Appetite; Kindle Their Knowledge; Stimulate Their Curiosity; Encourage Lifelong Learning. Karen has modeled the importance of being a life-long learner and has enhanced her teaching expertise by continually taking education courses at numerous universities and colleges..."
Following her guiding principle,  "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Karen's life has been one of service, in the classroom and in the community.  In supporting Karen's nomination Doug observed, "...her outstanding achievement and the effect she has had on hundreds of lives should be honored and celebrated with this award."