The sweltering Fresno summers meant Max McCurry had to get creative in fighting the heat. One summer in the 1950s, he left town all together.
The Montecito-Sequoia Camp for Boys in Sequoia National Park was looking for an archery teacher and McCurry, clueless about archery, figured he could learn how to teach it. More importantly, he'd at least get to escape into the cool mountains, his daughter Rachel McCurry said recently.
His wife, Berniece, got a job writing the camp newsletter and McCurry got the archery teaching job. Berniece drove them up to the camp while McCurry read as much as he could about archery. His nickname at camp was "Arrow," Rachel said.
McCurry's children still remember that story he once told them. It was a fib that had allowed him to escape the heat in the central San Joaquin Valley and then learn something new.
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According to his children, McCurry was good at making things work. Though they chuckle at an old image of McCurry appearing to teach a group of boys about archery, "If he wanted to do it, he learned how to do it," said his daughter Lisa Aro. McCurry used that approach in his decades-long career as a school teacher and as a supporter of education rights. Immersed in politics, McCurry took many trips to Washington, D.C., as a member of the National Education Association to lobby on behalf of teachers and students.
In Fresno, McCurry served in various roles with political arms of the Fresno Teachers Association and the California Teachers Association. He was elected president of FTA in 1972. And he served as a lead negotiator during the teacher strike in 1978. For years in his roles with the education groups, McCurry met and worked with lawmakers.
McCurry died June 11 of complications from Parkinson’s disease, according to his family. He was 86.
The teacher strike of '78 taught McCurry's children about their father's persistence and passion for education. Brian McCurry said his father warned the family that it would need to "tighten our belts" as the only safety net was cut short when teachers, like McCurry, voluntarily walked off the job with demands for better working conditions.
"That was a bleak Christmas," Brian, who was 9 at the time, said. "When you elect to walk off the job, you have to accept the consequences."
"He worked really hard to make the teaching profession more respected," his daughter Rachel said.
McCurry worked in Fresno Unified for 40 years, first teaching fourth-graders at Wilson Elementary School. He appreciated them because "they were old enough to talk about interesting things and they were potty-trained," his daughter Lisa Aro remembered her father saying.
At one point, McCurry's Wilson Elementary class grew to 44 students with multiple languages spoken, Rachel said. McCurry often stayed late to make bulletin boards and set up the next day's class. His wife Berniece would sometimes come in and help him, Rachel said.
Berniece had put McCurry through college while she worked at a telephone company. When he was done and teaching, McCurry put Berniece through college, as well. She worked on a literature degree and later became a substitute teacher. She died in 2016.
McCurry's teaching years were the most cherished of his life, according to family. His excitement toward teaching is felt in a statement the family remembers McCurry making: “The night before school begins is the teacher’s real New Year’s Eve, the one for his shiniest and best resolutions,” McCurry wrote in an FTA newsletter. “The roll sheets are new, the excitement is familiar, but also new. It is good to be alive in the classroom!”
McCurry taught eighth grade briefly at Tenaya Middle School before his love of teaching and politics merged when he taught history and advanced government to seniors at McLane High. As a teacher there, he organized annual trips to send students to Washington to visit the three branches of government.
Rachel said McCurry would often arrange for students to meet lawmakers and tour the halls of Congress. As a clever way to fund the trip, McCurry and a teaching partner sold ramen noodles to schoolkids at lunch, Rachel said. The money was used to provide scholarships to students who couldn't easily afford the trip.
"He was passionate about having kids' needs met," said Aro.
And after retiring from teaching, McCurry still continued helping others. His immediate job after teaching was working with a close friend to help teachers obtain adequate retirement plans, according to Rachel. In the final years together with his wife Berniece, McCurry volunteered at Stone Soup Fresno, a nonprofit that helps southeast Asian refugees settle in Fresno.
To this day, Brian said he often gets asked about his father by former students.
Aro said of her father, "If it was about education, it was important to him."
Born: June 25, 1931
Died: June 11, 2018
Survivors: Daughters Rachel McCurry and Lisa Aro; son Brian McCurry; many grandchildren
Services: 11 a.m. June 30, 2018 at Community United Church of Christ, 5550 N. Fresno St.