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May 16, 2003

Deaf students pay tribute to retiring teachers

From: Fairfield Daily Republic, CA - May 16, 2003

By Amy Maginnis-Honey

FAIRFIELD -- "I'll be OK. I'll be fine," said Geri Zagata, wiping back the tears.

Zagata, and her husband of almost 40 years, Bob Zagata, are retiring after 35 years of teaching Solano County's deaf children, including 32 at Anna Kyle School.

On Friday, their combined classes presented "Geri and Bob Zagata Say Aloha," recalling, in sign language, the 27 dramas the couple, and their students, have staged at the school.

"The music brings back memories," Bob Zagata said shortly before the second performance got under way.

The students put on two morning shows for Anna Kyle students and an evening production for former students, friends and the community.

The deaf students, who start the program as young as 3 and graduate after sixth grade, started out with "Christmas Carols," the first drama. The skit featured Santa and the students signing "Jingle Bells"

Christmas was the theme for the first decade, with shows occurring during the holidays.

"Then, Mrs. Zagata ran out of ideas for Christmas," Bob Zagata told the assembly. "The drama was switched to May which is Deaf Awareness Month."

In 1987, tribute was paid to Larry Kimsey, an Air Force pilot who went deaf and died of a brain tumor in 1986. He volunteered with the Zagatas.

"This was the hardest one to do," Bob Zagata told the students. "We miss Larry very much."

The 1997 drama focused on the Hawaiian island of Lanai, of which Geri Zagata is a native.

"The island is only 13 square miles," Bob Zagata noted. "She was probably the only hula dancer there."

Geri Zagata joined some of the students on stage to dance.

Bob Zagata worked on the sidelines for most of the show but stepped up to the spotlight for a rendition of "Centerfield" for the 1989 drama, "The World Series: The Giants vs. the A's."

After each number, the audience of Anna Kyle students, staff and parents waved their hands in the air to let the deaf students know they were enjoying the show.

"You have been our friends for many years," Geri Zagata told the crowd. "Like the song says, 'Keep smiling.' I added, 'Keep signing.' "

The moment was bittersweet for kindergarten teacher Judy Cherry, who started teaching at Anna Kyle in 1979.

"(The Zagatas) heightened the awareness in all of us to find the specialness in everyone," she said. "They always look for the good in everyone.

"They are the heartbeat of our school," she added. "This is a huge loss."

Valerie Dahlin's five children have attended the school.

"They have been the best supporters of everything at Anna Kyle School," she said. "They have been the spirit of the school."

The couple will teach through summer school, "so Geri can clean out her room," Bob Zagata said. Friday was also Geri Zagata's 60th birthday. Her husband is 61.

They've never counted the number of students they taught at Anna Kyle, but estimated it's several hundred.

They also taught sign language at Solano Community College.

While the performances Friday brought tears to their eyes, the Zagatas figured their last day of teaching will top them.

"We have made a lot of friendships here," Bob said. "It will be strange leaving."

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