Hayden Bob Preator intended to retire a year ago.
The veteran teacher took steps toward retirement last spring but changed his mind when faced with the final decision.
One more year was all he wanted.
Or so he thought.
Preator signed a one-year contract with the Hayden School District last fall, on the condition he would retire at the close of the 2001-02 school year.
The district lost its 26-year veteran May 23.
"If I hadn't signed it, I would probably be on the fence again this year," he said.
Preator, a biology teacher and the athletic director with the district, is not leaving for another school district.
He's received his share of job offers that would have sent anyone else packing.
The thought of leaving never got an audience with Preator.
Preator said he finally gave in to the idea of leaving to allow himself to take a step back, reassess where he has been and look ahead to where he might go.
"I thought that maybe I owe it to myself to step out of this cocoon I've built around myself over 32 years and do something," he said.
"I can always come back."
Faculty and administrators in Hayden knew Preator's retirement was coming.
They just didn't think it would come so soon for one of the district's most recognized faculty members.
The span of 26 years in the district made an impact that will be felt for some time to come, Hayden High School Principal Nick Schafer said.
"The quality (of the school) is due to Bob Preator," Schafer said. "He's just one of those people that you can't replace."
Preator never hesitated to pitch in and do anything necessary to help, he added.
The casual observer does not realize what the role of athletic director in a small school district entails, Hayden Superintendent Scott Mader said.
Preator managed to fulfill his responsibilities as athletic director while teaching biology classes.
"He has been such an asset to this district," Mader said. "He's been a great advocate for the students."
In larger districts such as Steamboat Springs, the athletic director may not have teaching responsibilities.
But Preator said he wouldn't stand for a purely administerial job.
He never wanted to go into full-time administration because such a move meant losing his place in the classroom.
"I never wanted to leave the classroom," he said.
"My real love was teaching and coaching, and when you step into administration you leave that behind."
Preator said he considers himself fortunate to work in a small school district that allows him to work with students in the classroom and still tend to his obligations as athletic director.
Moffat County School District once tried to persuade him to serve as its athletic director.
"But I just never wanted to leave Hayden," he said. "I made up my mind that this was going to be my home."
Jim Loughran, athletic director for Moffat County, remembers when he and Preator coached for opposing high school boys basketball teams.
The rivalry 23 years ago spawned a friendship that lasts today.
"I have a lot of respect and admiration for him," Loughran said. "He's an organizer and a worker. He takes a lot of pride in what he does."
Preator has succeeded as an athletic director because he understands and knows how to work with people, he said.
"You have to be a people person," Loughran said. "He is."
Preator's appetite for basketball is somewhat tempered by an annual trip to the Pepsi Center in Denver, where he runs the 4A and 5A basketball tournaments.
He inherited the position after showing his willingness to volunteer.
Preator played basketball at Western State College and coached high school boys basketball five years after he moved to Hayden in 1976 from Peetz, where he taught six years.
He accepted the position of athletic director in 1982.
He met his wife, Kathleen, when he moved to Hayden.
Kathleen Preator said she knew her husband would deeply miss his time at teaching experiences.
"I don't think it will hit him until the fall when he realizes he's not going back," she said.
Kevin Kleckler will replace Preator as athletic director.
Kleckler, the vocational teacher and football and track coach, said he shares his predecessor's appreciation for the dual task of teaching and serving as the athletic director.
Teaching and coaching go hand in hand, he said.
"Good coaches and teachers are understanding, work with their students, empathetic and most of all are passionate about what they do," he said.
"If you are passionate, it shows in your teaching and your coaching."
Athletics should be coached and taught as though athletes are in a classroom, Preator said.
He said he has always looked at academics and athletics as a chance to help students become better people.
"It's all a learning experience to help them become productive members of our society," Preator said. "If it doesn't have those things in place, then it doesn't belong in public education."
Preator has helped many athletes and students become productive members of the community.
In the early 1990s, he began to teach the children of former students.
"I've got kids' kids," he said. "After that the floodgates opened, and now I've got bunches of them."
Four great loves govern his decisions, he said.
His wife and family remain most important, followed by teaching, snowmobiling and road biking.
An athletic director must become a master juggler.
Preator said he values his ties to other athletic directors, because he depends on them to making successful at his school.
Schools are really only extended classrooms with schedules that athletic directors must work around, he said.
"We can't do it without each other," he said. "The school system is so interconnected. People don't really see that. We can't function and run a program here if other schools aren't doing it."
While Preator is retiring from education, he doesn't plan to sit at home.
He and Kathleen will be taking a month-long tour of Alaska via road bike.
"We're celebrating my retirement," he said.
He said he plans to stay busy with a myriad of projects and stay involved with the school district.
Although classes ended last week at Hayden High School, Preator took advantage of one last opportunity to impart some wisdom to his students.
The senior class asked Preator to give the keynote address during commencement exercises later that evening.
At first the veteran teacher balked at the idea.
"They think they're doing me a favor," he said. "But my worst nightmare is to publicly speak."
He had no trouble rattling off something about biology, Preator said, but he felt unprepared to address about philosophical ideas.
A brief encounter a few weeks ago with a 75-year-old substitute teacher provided the necessary inspiration.
The elderly gentlemen told Preator he thought students should be taught to value education as a privilege and not a right.
Preator took the man's words to heart and commanded a rapt audience.
He challenged students to consider how much or little they valued their education.
He asked graduating seniors what choice they would make if, 12 years ago, they were given the option of 12 years of free public education or forgoing that education and cashing in on the estimated $100,000 it was worth.
"You're worth more than that measly $100,000," he said.
Preator took a few minutes to express his appreciation for 26 years with the school district.
"I am proud, very proud to be a teacher," he said. "It gives more than it takes."
As he turned to walk off the stage, he offered the seniors his trademark parting expression.
Preator often teases his students with the saying, "If you see me downtown, pretend like you don't know me."
"And remember when you see me downtown" was all he said, leaving the students to fill in the blanks.
But the seniors' faces betrayed that request, as if to reply that the man who touched their lives for four years would not be so easily forgotten or dismissed.
To reach Danie Harrelson call 871-4203
or e-mail email@example.com