The Gundersons have deep roots in the Clark County School District; two generations of family members have taught in the Las Vegas Valley. Former co-workers use the word “family” to describe their relationship with the Gundersons.
When news spread last month that the home John and Jamie Gunderson were living in at Paradise, California, had been destroyed by the Camp Fire, several ex-colleagues stepped up to help.
Susan Hrisca, administrative school secretary at Sierra Vista, sent an email asking for school staffers to sign a card and donate money.
The school raised almost $900.
“We are a family; we take care of each other,” Hrisca said.
John’s father, Barry, was the principal at Las Vegas High School. John’s mother, June, was the principal at Cram Middle School. John was a science teacher and an assistant football coach at Sierra Vista High School before moving to Paradise with Jamie, a former employee with CCSD’s Assistive Technology Services department, in May 2017.
The Camp Fire began Nov. 8 in Pulga, about 7 miles from Paradise. The fire, burning over 153,000 acres, destroyed nearly 14,000 homes and left at least 85 people dead.
John had left for work, at Fairview High School in Chico, about 25 miles west of Paradise, before Jamie on the day the fire destroyed their home. Jamie evacuated the area with one bag of supplies and the couple’s dogs as the fire was in sight.
John Anzalone, principal at Sierra Vista, said John left a legacy at the school. He recalled how numerous Gunderson family members were at every football game to watch John coach.
Jamie works as a professor at California State University, Chico. Her students and co-workers learned her house and most of her possessions had been destroyed, and several got together to help fix up a new home that the Gundersons were moving into. They did so while the couple was in Las Vegas, some are still helping with the finishing touches.
“As an educator myself, I can imagine how it would feel to see your students doing something for you and making sure you are OK,” Anzalone said.
Jamie’s former co-workers in Assistive Technology Services, which provides disability-related technology to students, also raised money for the family. Janice Monteiro, who worked with Jamie for six years, helped raise $650 for the Gundersons from employees with CCSD’s Assistive Technology Services, which provides disability-related technology to students.
“She was never quite gone from Vegas,” Monteiro said. “Even though she doesn’t live here anymore, she has contributed so much to this community and she is still a part of it.”
Jamie and John said they’re humbled and grateful. They’ve moved to a home in Chico and are back at their new jobs.
“They are special people … It is people like them that make you want to help and support,” Monteiro said.