Retired teacher killed in wreck
Geddes lived in Sonoma for 50 years
Don Geddes, 82, who lived in Sonoma for 50 years and taught art at Sonoma Valley High School for 29 of them, was killed Monday while trying to turn from Burndale Road onto Napa Road, just east of the city. Geddes had been driving back from running an errand for a friend when the accident occurred.
According to California Highway Patrol Officer Garrett Ray, Geddes pulled his white 1990 Toyota Corolla northbound into oncoming traffic attempting to turn left onto Napa Road and was struck almost immediately by a 2006 Volvo XC90 SUV driven by Ronald Brown, 39, of San Francisco, who was headed eastbound at 55 mph. The turn from Burndale onto Napa – sharp and partially obscured by eucalyptus trees, with cars speeding by between the posted-50 mph and 60 mph – is notoriously tricky. The Volvo broadsided the driver’s side door of Geddes’ car, sending both vehicles careening off the road and down a berm on the edge of a vineyard on the north side of Napa Road.
Brown, who CHP officers did not think had any fault in the accident, was unhurt. His passengers, including his two young girls, ages 2 and 5, a 39-year-old woman and another 60-year-old female, were all also unhurt except for minor cuts and scrapes, according to CHP Officer William Bradshaw.
Geddes’ dedication to helping others was well known around the community, and on Monday morning he had been doing just that – clearing out a drain for a neighbor. He’d made a quick run to Burndale Road to pick up a drain snake from another friend and was on his way back across town when he collided with the Volvo on that dicey stretch of Napa Road. He was pronounced dead at the scene.
A popular teacher at Sonoma Valley High School and a fixture on the campus for nearly 30 years, Geddes came to Sonoma in 1962. The road to Sonoma went through Korea and Salt Lake City and San Jose, among other places.
He’d served in the Marines for four years and fought the Korean War, a distinction that remained important to him throughout his life. His friend Ken Crump, of Oakmont, said Geddes introduced himself as an “old jarhead” when the two first met in 1987. Crump, a Korean War historian and veteran who served in the Air Force during Korea, looked Geddes up after he read an article in the Index-Tribune about a trip back to Korea, for veterans of the war, Geddes took in 1987.
“Jarhead” Geddes served in the 5th Marine Regiment, 1st Division, as a rifleman, and was deployed along with 18,000 Marines and a couple of thousand other troops to Chosin, South Hamgyong province, in Korea, where he fought in one of the biggest and bloodiest battles of the entire war in December 1950.
The Chinese has just entered the war, and by some counts sent as many 200,000 men into battle to surprise the Americans, surrounding the troops at Chosin. Many men died in the ensuing weeks of fighting, known as the Battle of Chosin Reservoir, and the action resulted in the pullout of all United Nations troops from North Korea and the establishment of the DMZ that exists today.
Stationed in Pyongyang during the battle, Krum remembers getting reports of the Chinese advance, everyone saying the Marines were goners. “But they fought their way out of there,” he said. “It was just the most amazing feat.”
But many men were killed in the battle, and while Geddes survived, he was badly wounded at Yudam Ni and airlifted to a rudimentary airfield hastily bulldozed at the base of the Chosin Reservoir at Hagaru Ri.
After the war Geddes continued to meet once a year for decades with a group of Marines who fought in the battle and called themselves “The Chosin Few.”
“Don never missed those,” said Crump. “He was very proud.”
When he returned home from the war in 1951, Geddes met and married his wife, Sandra, and for a time worked for Shell Oil in Martinez. Then Geddes, who had never graduated high school, pursued his GED at Diablo Junior College.
“He was a rough, hard-drinking Marine when he met my mother,” said Geddes’ daughter Margaret Parducci, of Sonoma, the second of seven children. Sandra was an active member of the Mormon church, but, “She never harassed my father or tried to get him to join the church,” said Parducci. But in 1956, after he and Sandy had their fourth child, Geddes decided he wanted to convert. “There were four of us little ones,” remembers Parducci, “and they drove us out to Salt Lake and they re-married in the (Mormon) temple in there.”
Art-inclined since early childhood by his own account, Geddes next went to college to get his teaching degree. He began night school in 1959 under the G.I. Bill and eventually graduated from San Jose State in 1962 with a degree in art education.
At San Jose, Geddes met Duane Larson, who became a lifelong friend and his close colleague in the art department at Sonoma Valley High School. The friendship lasted 52 years.
Larson remembers fondly the deep, philosophical conversations the two would have ranging over religion, politics, astronomy, classical music and, of course, art. “We had a lot of differences in our belief systems – he was Mormon, I wasn’t, and politically he was on the right, and I was more liberal – yet we connected extremely well, and had really fascinating conversations that went on for years.”
Larson also spoke of Geddes’ great devotion to quality and his attention to detail in all things. “He was a genuine craftsman, no matter what he did, whether it was electrical or construction or painting – whatever he did,” said Larson. “He believed in craftsmanship. I admired him for that. He never said, ‘Well, that’s good enough.’”
At the high school, the two were foils, with Geddes mostly teaching more sculptural art and Larson covering painting and drawing.
Glenn Moll, who spent 37 years in the Sonoma Valley Unified School District, 13 of them as vice-principal of Sonoma Valley High before retiring in 2012, called the pair of art teachers “fixtures,” and remembers Geddes was “very, very popular” with students. Former students’ obvious affection for Geddes can be seen in the outpouring of comments and remembrances they have left online in the wake of the news of his death.
“He loved teaching. He loved showing people what they could create,” said Parducci.
Geddes went on later to get a masters degree in art, studying in Mexico during a year-long sabbatical from teaching in Sonoma.
Moll said Geddes put a lot of time into developing the art program at SVHS and also into bringing art into the community. He said he respected Geddes for the way he led students by the strong example he set. “Everybody knew Don kind of rose to a higher standard,” Moll said.
During his tenure at the high school, Moll was responsible for the creation and design of the Chet Sharek Plaza at the school (named in honor of a former school administrator), and said that Geddes, then retired, helped immensely in the whole process. “Don Geddes was a major part of that project,” said Moll. Geddes contributed to the planning and also created a bronze cast bust of Sharek that’s still part of the courtyard. Moll said, “Don’s legacy is there in that.”
After retiring from teaching in 1991, Geddes focused on creating his own art, working on paintings and sculptures in a small studio behind his house, according to Parducci. He also served as bishop of the local Mormon ward for a time and continued to help people whenever he could.
“He always anticipated your needs before you knew you needed them,” said Larson.
When Larson began rebuilding his house after his wife passed away, he received a great deal of advice and help from Geddes. “He just volunteered to come over to help and didn’t even ask,” said Larson. The project took eight years and Geddes was there, on and off, the whole way. Larson said, “He says, ‘If you need somebody on the other end of the board, just give me a holler,’ And it didn’t matter what – he’d be there.”
As part of the Korean War Project's Letters to the Lost, in 2006 Don Geddes wrote a letter to a fellow Marine with whom he served in the 5th Regiment who was killed in action at Chosin in 1950 – the battle Geddes himself narrowly survived. The letter to PFC Clifford John Kleber, addressed “Dear Cliff,” is partially a recounting of Geddes own life to his friend.
He tells Cliff all about the things he’s done in his life and the places he’s gone (he writes he travelled “to China for one year (that’s right, CHINA) to teach English. I met one Korean veteran there who could have been the one that shot us both.”).
Geddes might have been a modest man, as his friends recounted, but his pride comes through when he talks about his family – Geddes had seven children, 24 grandchildren, 18 great-grandchildren and two great-great-granddaughters. “When I look at them,” he writes, “I sometimes think of you being denied these blessings.”
Geddes ends his letter to Cliff by writing, “I will, as we all must, join you on the other side of that veil called death in a different and glorious eternal relationship. Save a place for me.”
A funeral service will be held at 11 a.m. Saturday, Feb. 23, at the Sonoma Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-day Saints, 16280 LaGrama Drive, Agua Caliente.