When Dave Neubacher was a mere 60 years old, the El Verano School teacher was profiled in the Index-Tribune and his nearly four decade career reviewed. In a moment of reflection, he said then, “When I go, I’ll go quietly.”

The popular fifth-grade teacher passed away Wednesday at the age of 65, after a little-publicized battle with cancer, and a bright light was dimmed at the Valley elementary school.

“Dave Neubacher was the heart and soul of El Verano School,” said Louann Carlomagno, superintendent of the Sonoma Valley Unified School District and a former principal at El Verano. “He would spend endless hours outside the classroom working with students and their families, doing whatever was needed to help children be successful.

“Students left Dave’s classroom with an absolute love of learning and a confidence that they could be successful, no matter what challenges they faced.”

Neubacher graduated from Sonoma State in 1975, and subsequently added a master’s degree from the University of San Francisco. He was hired at the Sonoma Valley School District in 1976, and for the most part spent his entire teaching career there, usually fifth and sixth grades.

He coached basketball, was an after-school intervention teacher, site garden coordinator and mentor for the El Verano mentor program. He even served as vice principal for a time before the sixth grade moved to the middle school.

He always brought considerable energy and wide-ranging interests to his classroom, and it paid off. Every year, he took his classes to the Point Reyes Clem Miller Environmental Education Center, to stimulate their environmental awareness. As a result, his students won four national Jiminy Cricket Environmental Challenge trophies, earning each class a complimentary trip to Disneyland.

In 1999, his students won the prestigious President’s Environmental Youth Award for their project on why wolves should not be killed; President Clinton called Neubacher directly to offer congratulations. Neubacher thanked him, then hung up to return to his class.

He was selected by Sonoma Valley students as one of their three favorite teachers in 2014, and honored at the Red & White Ball that year.

He retired at the end of the 2014-15, but kept coming back to the campus as a substitute teacher and in other supportive roles.

Education runs in the family: his wife Toni is a teacher at Kenilworth Junior High School in Petaluma, his daughter Tarah works in the El Verano Library, and another daughter Anna is a teacher in the Sassarini preschool.

A third daughter, Dana, lives in Santa Rosa.

“Dave Neubacher was a quiet humble teacher who gave his heart and soul to his students and El Verano,” said Maite Iturri, current principal at the school. “His impact on this community reaches far and wide. He truly went above and beyond for Sonoma Valley students and families.”