If it weren’t for the wet weather west of the Cascades, hundreds of Kennewick students might never have known a former longtime principal at Eastgate Elementary School.
Conward Farris moved his family to the Northwest from Arkansas in 1954 in pursuit of a better teaching salary, and first joined a teaching college friend in Vancouver, his son, Michael Farris, told the Herald.
“My dad decided it was too rainy and didn’t like it,” Michael Farris said.
But on the way back to Arkansas, the family stopped in the Tri-Cities to stay with another friend. Conward Farris learned there were open teaching positions in Kennewick and was hired as a sixth-grade teacher. That began an almost 30-year career in the Kennewick School District.
Farris, 90, died Monday after a long illness. He retired from the schools in 1983. His dedication to education, and to students, left a lasting impact on his family, friends and the students he worked with over the years.
“I think he saw good in all of them and never gave up on any,” said Wilma Burgess, a retired teacher and principal who worked with Farris at Eastgate.
Farris spent his first year teaching in the old red brick building that sat where the district’s administrative offices now are located. He then taught at Hawthorne Elementary School for a few years before becoming principal at Eastgate in 1959. He stayed at the school for 19 years.
Eastgate stood out for having a high number of low-income students back in the 1960s and 1970s but that didn’t hinder Farris, Burgess said. The principal encouraged local officials to establish Eastgate Park next to the school to provide a space for students and improve the neighborhood. He also reached out to student families.
“He did a lot of things that got a lot of good things for Kennewick,” Burgess said.
People knew the principal for liking children. Even as an administrator, he took time to personally tutor students in reading, his son said. Burgess said Farris understood kids and had a mischievous streak of his own.
“I don’t think any kid tried to lie to him,” she said. “They just knew he’d understand.”
Farris finished his career at Canyon View Elementary School, where he was principal from 1978 to 1983. His views on learning, however, passed on to his four children, two of whom went into education. Daughter Pam Covallo recently retired from teaching in the Yakima School District. Michael Farris is chancellor of Patrick Henry College, a small private Christian college in Virginia.
“My dad’s dedication to education rubbed off on me a little bit,” Michael Farris said.
Farris‘ health had declined since he suffered a stroke in February, but family said they’ve heard from numerous former students and teachers, many through social media, that showed the lasting effect he had on their lives.
“He was a good witness to us all as youngsters, and I will always have a fondness in my heart for him,” said one former student quoted in Farris’ obituary.