Dick Brownfield hasn’t changed much over the years.
Former Douglas County School District Superintendent Gregory Betts hired Brownfield as Whittell High School’s principal in 1976. Sure, his ties were a little wider back then, but the positive, family- and community-oriented man who arrived at Whittell 25 years ago, is still there.
Brownfield is retiring this year from a school where he spent much of his career.
Memories of sports teams, cheerleading squads, speech and debate teams and homecoming floats came flooding back, as Brownfield spoke candidly about days past, referring to students from 20 years ago by name.
“There are so many great memorable experiences, it’s hard to choose a favorite,” said Brownfield, who was principal when Whittell’s baseball team won the championship for the first time in 1979, and for the second time this year. “It’s just been great, with a capital ‘G.’ Like the tiger with the cereal.”
Brownfield’s 16-year run as principal at Whittell ended in 1991. He took over administrative duties at Gardnerville Elementary School, where he stayed for nine years. Three principals followed in his footsteps at Whittell and when Howard Bennett retired from the position in 2000, Brownfield agreed to spend his last year before retirement at his old stomping grounds. He returned to Whittell last year on a one-year interim basis to allow the school district the time needed to find a new principal. Mario Gatto was chosen to take over duties in the fall.
“I’ll just be eternally grateful to Mr. Brownfield for being willing the last year before his retirement to go up to Whittell at the last minute, when he could have stayed in Gardnerville,” District Superintendent Pendery Clark said. “He was willing to really move back into those high school principal shoes, which are really hard to fill. He has just done a wonderful job this year, pulling things together for the new principal. He’s been very committed to that. He’s worked so well with the parents, the students and the staff there. It’s been a quiet year at Whittell and I think that has a lot to do with Mr. Brownfield.”
Brownfield said former students often remind him of “bad” things they did when they were at Whittell.
“What’s interesting to me is when we have reunions and kids come up to me and say, ‘Don’t you remember when I did this?’ And I really don’t,” he said. “I try to remember the positive things.”
Clark commented on Brownfield’s positive attitude.
“He just treats everyone with respect and he really cares about the kids and the school,” she said. “You can just see that in the way he handles things. He attended all of the the events this year. He went to everything. He never slacked off and I think it’s because he really enjoyed it. He loves Whittell. He feels a tremendous sense of pride there.”
Brownfield said he learned the value of respect and fairness early on in his career.
“When I first came here, Dr. Betts, my superintendent, was a mentor for me,” he said. “I watched him work with people, how he wouldn’t get overly excited about things and I modeled that.”
After graduation, Brownfield said he looks forward to traveling the United States and golfing with his wife Helen.
“We’ve traveled to Europe and now we want to see the United States,” he said. “Get some golfing in, maybe go to some of the pro tournaments instead of watching them on the tube.”
During his first block as principal at Whittell, Brownfield displayed banners of colleges attended by Whittell graduates. Continuing that tradition is among his retirement plans.
“After I left, that wasn’t continued, but when I retire I intend to follow that up and get some of that back in sync because there is a large percentage of Whittell students who have completed some form of higher education,” he said.
So Mr. Brownfield, any advice for Mario Gatto?
“Be a listener,” he said. “Get all of the information before you make a decision. Weigh that information and then go forward with your decision. And in the very few times that things may not be going right, remember, it’s the position and not the person.”
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