RUMFORD — Catherine Charles has taught Cambodian refugees, staffed a Maine sporting camp and, for the past nearly 30 years, taught French to high school students.

Charles, 61, will retire from Mountain Valley High School next month. She has taught French there for the past 10 years.

“I’m a lucky lady. Jobs have come to me, and it’s always worked out for the best,” she said.

She grew up in Southern Maine, where her three sisters still live, and graduated from Kennebunk High School. She graduated with a degree in French from the University of Maine, including a semester at the Universite de Haute Bretagne in France. It was in Southern Maine where she taught English as a second language to Cambodian children.

“It was a fascinating experience,” she said.

From there she took a substitute French teaching position in Foxcroft Academy that quickly turned full time. She and her family moved to Bowerbank, which, she said, tripled the school taxes for the Piscataquis County town north of Dover-Foxcroft.

While there, she and her Maine Guide husband ran a sporting camp. In 2000, the family moved to Eustis where they managed the King and Bartlett Sporting Camps and she began her tenure at Mountain Valley High School.

When she was growing up, she knew she would become a teacher, she said. Her father bought his daughters two large desks and a blackboard that was placed in the family’s cellar. She “played school” with her younger sisters as students, she said.

She thought she’d be a math teacher, but an experience in high school changed all that. When she discovered that she was the only girl in a calculus class of 12, her teacher suggested that she take a different course, she said. Also while still in high school, she took a trip with her class to Europe.

That trip not only whetted her appetite for French, but also showed her the importance of travel, she said. She takes her students to Quebec City or Montreal every year.

When she first arrived at the high school, she said, her first impression was the abundance of supplies and more importantly, that the sense of community was strong.

“People care about each other and take care of each other,” she said.

Her husband lives in Kennebunk and she plans to join him. She hopes to work part time in the hospitality industry, spend more time with her sisters, become more proficient in Spanish and visit with her five grandchildren, she said.

She and her husband, Jeff, also take yearly, weeklong trips to Puerto Rico. She’s hoping they’ll be able to stay longer when she is retired, she said.

“I am going to miss school and seeing the kids and their parents,” she said.

Charles said she decided to retire now, in part, because she wants to be home with her husband and she has been homeroom teacher for the Class of 2014 for four years.

In addition to being the grandparents of five, Charles and her husband are the parents of a daughter who is an elementary guidance counselor, another daughter who is a nuclear engineer and a son who is a mechanical engineer.


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