Health problems have prevented a Pasco School Board member and popular retired teacher from attending school board meetings for almost a year.
Jeff Dong, who taught history at Pasco High until 2007, is known for his dedication to his students, before and after they made it into his classroom.
Students, teachers and others associated with the district now are rallying to support Dong as he recovers from complications from diabetes at Richland Rehabilitation Center.
"I remember playing tennis with him when I was 5," said Alysia Johnson, a 1992 Pasco High graduate. She said she played tennis with him during the summers while her mother worked for the Pasco School District.
Dong taught at Pasco High for 40 years, as well as serving as a tennis coach and adviser to the school's Key Club and student government, before retiring in 2007.
"He may not have his own kids, but he sure adopted a lot through Pasco High," said friend John Crawford, a retired Pasco High mathematics teacher.
Crawford said Dong was raised in Seattle's Chinatown by his mother, and he and his wife "adopted" him when he arrived in 1967 to teach at Pasco High. The two retired teachers have remained close ever since.
Dong remained active in his retirement, getting elected to the school board in 2010. However, his declining health meant he could not attend meetings and hasn't since late September 2011. He last participated in a board meeting in March during a work session, according to district officials. His term runs until 2015.
He reportedly was receiving care and treatment in Portland before deciding to return to the Tri-Cities to continue his rehabilitation. Dong declined requests to be interviewed for this story.
Johnson said a lot of students have visited Dong and he's insisted the students talk about themselves, not his health or himself. Someone did post a call that he needed more visitors on a Facebook page dedicated to Pasco High.
All the responses to the post recalled Dong's effect on student lives and their fond memories of him.
District spokeswoman Leslee Caul said Dong has continued to receive information regarding district business, though he is not receiving any compensation for his role on the board because of his absence from meetings. District officials and other board members are wishing him a speedy recovery and to see him at a board meeting in the future.
"That is certainly our hope," she said.
Board President Sherry Lancon said there is no district policy regarding long-term absences of board members. She said there hasn't been any discussion about seeking a replacement for his Dong's seat.
"He's been a great member of the community and the district," she said.