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Bracco Completes 42 Year Career
First grade teacher Gloria Bracco will retire this summer after teaching for 42 years, all of them for the Riverbank Unified School District and the last 22 years at California Avenue School. She was slated to be honored for her achievements at the May 15 district meeting.

"Why did I go into teaching?" she pondered. "I enjoy the enthusiasm of the young. Being around them keeps you on your toes. I've always enjoyed children. I even babysat them when a teenager."

A native of Modesto who now lives near Salida, she attended Modesto Junior College and Chico State University before getting her teaching credential and joining the Riverbank school district. In her first try for a job she was turned down by Red Bluff school officials.

"They said I was too young, inexperienced and would probably spend my evenings going to dances and parties," she said. "Riverbank was much easier on me. Ray Safreno was the superintendent. He, Sam Hartsfield and Michael Mulidor interviewed me for 15 minutes, talked together for five more and said I had the job. They didn't refer it to the board or anything. It was more informal in those days."

Bracco has been teaching here so long she's had parents she taught as first and second graders return years later to sign up their children. She's also had former students invite her to their college graduation.

"Matthew and Mike Nelson at MJC invited me to their graduation," she said. "And Amy Millanes, now an executive for a big company, wants me to attend her baby shower."

All in all, Bracco calculates she's been teaching for 7,560 days and "had an impact" on 1,050 students. During those years, she maintained 24 years of perfect attendance and missed only 73 days of school.

Among the achievements she's most proud of is helping start fire prevention assemblies for the schools and persuading the California Division of Forestry to send Smokey Bear. The mascot's first appearance in Riverbank was in 1974. A former student, Mike Whorton, now a Stanislaus Consolidated fire captain, generally heads those October visits

In 1998 and 1999, she taught a Gifted and Talented Education class that wrote a "History of Riverbank" which is still kept on the shelves of the local library as a valuable research resource. It has hand-drawn illustrations by the youngsters and an introduction by local historians Dick and Jody Landon and Allen Duncan.

Keen on outdoor education, Bracco started the Stanislaus County Educational Newsletter for Environmental Education and Science that focused on the Miwok Indians and helped found the Foothill Horizons environmental camp near Sonora.

With retired firefighter Dennis McDowell, she ran a recycling drive for discarded newspapers that her students brought from home. Bracco and McDowell turned them into a $100 per year donation to the Ceres fire department and raised enough finally to buy a" Jaws of Life" extraction tool.

Every Christmas, she would lead her students from the school to downtown to go caroling from store to store. This week she has arranged a walk to the library to pick up a library card for each student in her class.

Over the years, many pet animals have found a home in her classroom. They included a cat named Sugar who produced kittens they had to give away, baby rabbits, a caged rat which created "an incident" by biting a child who got too close, and a frog which died suddenly. Laughing at the memory, Bracco related how she frantically tried to flush it down the toilet before the children found out their favorite was dead.

Bracco's husband is Ed Rusca.

"I'm Italian Swiss. He's Swiss Irish," she explained of her class's Swiss costumes at the school's recent multicultural dances. Rusca is a custom farmer. He does the ground work for dairy farms, she explained, drives a big tractor and does the disking.

"His tractor's cab is air conditioned," she said, and joked that it has a GPS that "wakes him up" when he's due to make a turn.

In retirement, she plans to do a lot of volunteering, mostly at the Salida library, and probably at the Riverbank museum. The museum's curator Paulette Roberson is a fellow former teacher and her close friend.

"And being a farmer's daughter and farmer's wife, I want to promote agriculture. Then I will get more involved with religion. I'm a Catholic. As a teacher, I found the weekends a precious respite from work. But I felt guilty about skipping church activities. Now I have no excuse. I love gardening, too. I find it very therapeutic."