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Returning Home Pays Off For McDonough

Ontario High School Associate Principal John McDonough is only a couple years away from retirement, but he still remembers what it is like to be a teen-ager.

McDonough, whose office is filled with 1960s rock posters, Yankees memorabilia and pictures of former students, feels a special bond with the young adults he comes in contact with every day. He not only remembers what it is like to be a high school student, but also what it is like to be an Ontario High School student.

"I grew up here and went all through school here," McDonough said. McDonough, born and raised in Ontario, graduated from OHS in 1968.       
By Kim Nowacki Argus Observer

According to his senior yearbook, McDonough played varsity football and baseball and was voted "best personality" along with classmate Sandy Davis.

The autumn after graduation, McDonough left Ontario to attend college in Spokane. He said by growing up and going to school in Ontario, he understands his students' desire to graduate and move away.

"I mean I was the same way, I couldn't wait to get out of Ontario and get away to college," McDonough said. "But I got homesick and it certainly didn't bother me to come back."

McDonough returned to Ontario after attending Gonzaga University, Eastern Washington University and Eastern Oregon University where he graduated with his degree in secondary education.

"I hadn't thought about coming back to teach here," McDonough said, but his father had died the year before he earned his degree in secondary education, and without any siblings nearby, he thought it would be nice to be close to his mother.

In the fall of 1972, McDonough began teaching seventh- and eighth-grade social studies at Ontario Junior High. When McDonough attended school there, his class was the first batch of ninth-graders to graduate from the school when it evolved from a middle school to a junior high.

"The principal was Gene Bates," McDonough said. "It was funny because he hired me as a teacher and then hired me as his assistant, and he had been my ninth-grade basketball coach when I went to junior high."

During his eight years as a teacher at the junior high, McDonough gained his master's degree from Eastern Oregon University and his administrative degree from the University of Oregon. In 1980, he moved up to the position of assistant principal.

Then in 1985, he became the principal at Lindberg Elementary School, the school he attended as a boy. Seven years later McDonough's wife, Maureen, who he had met at Gonzaga, was offered a position teaching nursing at Walla Walla Community College. The family packed up and moved to the small town of Athena, Ore. McDonough was the kindergarten through eighth grade principal of Athena-Weston Junior High and Weston Elementary, but he never felt the support he had in the Ontario schools, McDonough said.

In 1994, positions in Ontario opened up for both McDonough and his wife. She became director of the nursing program at Treasure Valley Community College, and he rounded out his teaching career by becoming associate principal at OHS.

"This completed the triple play, I guess, of being an administrator of each school I attended," McDonough said. "I've always been a Tiger. It was just really neat coming back, and I have kids that I taught in the junior high who now have kids in the high school."

Despite his gray hair and three decades of teaching under his belt, McDonough does not look old enough to retire.

He does, though, feel his age catching up to him, he said, when his grown students still call him formally as "Mr. McDonough." Even adults McDonough had 25 years ago as students, still get a little nervous about seeing the principal.

"A funny thing is former students will think I remember everything that they ever did," McDonough said. "They think I'll remember when they threw that spit wad and I had to keep them after class. I have to tell them to stop apologizing."

As for the students McDonough sees today, some things remain the same.

"When I was in high school, it was just like it is now, everyone comes to Ontario to cruise," McDonough said. "Yes, we did have cars back then."

McDonough has also witnessed great changes since he walked the halls of OHS as a student.

"I just think they (the students) are so much more mature these days, and I mean that in a positive way, because I think back to when I was in high school and I don't think I had as much going for me as these kids do today in terms of just knowing what's going on," McDonough said.

After 30 years in the business of educating children, McDonough thinks maybe he would like to retire - in a couple years - and try something new, like not answering to a bell every day, he said.

"I know I'm going to miss it but I guess I want the chance to see if I really do," McDonough said.

By Kim Nowacki Argus Observer