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January 18, 2022

School dedicates wing to celebrated former educator

WATSONVILLE—A group of local educators, community leaders, elected officials and family members were among more than two-dozen people who gathered Tuesday at Watsonville Aptos Santa Cruz Adult Education, as the school dedicated a wing of its facility to Rhea DeHart.

Also present at the gathering were DeHart’s daughters Katherine DeHart Hale of Vallejo and Julie DeHart Criswell of Sacramento. They received a proclamation from Watsonville Mayor Jimmy Dutra

DeHart died Aug. 5, 2019 at the age of 96.

Deeply involved in the Watsonville community, DeHart was a beloved teacher, a mentor to new teachers, a school board member and was part of the efforts in 1969 push to unionize teachers and form the Pajaro Valley Federation of Teachers. 

“She wasn’t afraid and always had the courage to say what had to be said,” said Pajaro Valley Unified School District Superintendent Dr. Michelle Rodriguez. “She was always front and center.”

In a 2019 obituary, Watsonville City Councilman Lowell Hurst called DeHart “the Lion of Pajaro.”

DeHart returned to the classroom at 86 to supplement her pension, and even after her second retirement kept herself busy with the goings-on in Watsonville. This included serving on the Watsonville Planning and Parks and Recreation commissions.

She was also involved with Pajaro Valley Migrant Head Start, Migrant and Adaptive in the Americas Foundation, Watsonville Women’s Club and Mello Center for the Performing Arts.

She led the drive to pass Measures H, I and J in 2014, which among other things changed how Watsonville’s mayor is selected. 

“Rhea left a legacy in how she lived,” said Adult School Director Nancy Bilicich “She made a real difference in the City of Watsonville and PVUSD. She had a full life and volunteered to the very end. What a wonderful legacy she left us.”

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