Rowland Unified School District

Staff Only

Love Drives Memorial Fund

The power of love

By Richard Irwin (Highlander 10/18/2007)


Superintendent Maria Ott accepts a $15,000 donation from Sumner Kaufman for the memorial fund dedicated to his late wife, Shirley. With them is curriculum specialist Fern Sheldon. (Photo courtesy of Rowland Unified School District)

How strong is love?

If it starts like a pebble rolling down the hillside of our lives, does it slowly build into an avalanche of goodwill that eventually engulfs everyone around it?

It does if it involves the Kaufman family. Over the past 17 years, the generous family has donated more than $100,000 to support schools in the Rowland Unified School District.

And to think it all started with a love affair. The kind you read about in romantic novels, when fate brings two strangers together and welds them into one.

To be more precise, it all started when a 17-year-old named Sumner Kaufman met a 16-year-old named Shirley on a blind date in Boston.

"I knew on our first date that this was the woman I was going to marry. I was afraid to tell my mother because I didn't want her to think I was crazy," Sumner Kaufman recalls.

Crazy as in crazy in love. And the feelings were obviously mutual, because the couple married and moved to the San Gabriel Valley to raise their new family.

By all accounts, Shirley Kaufman was an exceptional person - an exceptional wife, exceptional mother, exceptional teacher.

"Of course Rowland was very different back in 1957. Shirley was interviewed in the kitchen of a farmhouse located where the Puente Hills Mall is now. She said a goat walked in during her interview for a teaching position," Sumner Kaufman said.

Shirley Kaufman walked out with the job, beginning a 22-year career in the tiny school district, where farms dominated the land.

Daughter Ethel "Cookie" Tafoya remembers going to school with her mother back then.

"You'd look out the windows and see cows," Tafoya said. "Mom loved teaching. She was very innovative in using new ideas and technology to improve her classes."

Her years of service at Ybarra Elementary School are commemorated on a mural that was dedicated last year.

Shirley Kaufman obviously influenced her daughters, who also became teachers. Tafoya later taught history in West Covina. Her sister taught in Pomona.

"We all took it very hard when mother died in 1989," Tafoya lamented.

"She was the best partner a man could ask for, I can't believe I had been lucky enough to share my life with her," Sumner Kaufman said, his voice still cracking with emotion after all these years.

In 1990, he decided to start a memorial fund that would help teachers in the Rowland Unified School District. Over the years, he has contributed yearly to the Shirley Kaufman Memorial Fund.

"I scraped together every penny I could save for the fund," Kaufman said.

On his 88th birthday this month, the Huntingdon Beach resident made another contribution, bringing his grand total to more than $100,000.

In a letter with the check, he wrote, "Here I am still alive and over the hill instead of being under it. I am very happy to once again to be able to present Rowland District with this check for the Shirley Kaufman Fund for the sum of $15,000."

"I think the purchase of the projects this year was wonderful. Thanks to the committee member for their work. Fern Sheldon, I send you a special thank you."

A curriculum specialist for the district, Sheldon has worked on the memorial fund for the past 17 years.

"Sumner is a very special man. He honors his love for his late wife by giving money to district teachers," Sheldon said. "We approve small amounts for projects, but they have made a big change in instruction."

The Kaufmans' grandsons, Joe and Jeffery Tafoya, serve as the family's voice on the committee. Joe Tafoya was only 19 when he began working with the fund named after his grandmother.

"It was a little overwhelming at first. But it has been a good experience, it's a great thing to be able to help teachers out," said the Hacienda Heights businessman.

Sheldon said many Rowland teachers apply for the yearly grants that range from $50 to $500. She noted the projects have to reflect new ideas or techniques in the use of technology or innovative teaching methods.

"Last year, some teachers asked for some LCD projectors, which were such a big hit that other teachers wanted them this year," Sheldon said.

Tafoya called different distributors until he was able to get a special discount from a company in Walnut.

"Part of the requirement is that recipients share their equipment and ideas with other teachers. The plan has always been to share innovations in instruction," the district specialist noted.

Cookie Tafoya is proud of the work that her father and sons have done with the Shirley Kaufman Memorial Fund.

"I taught in public schools and know there is no money for extras. Many teachers pay for things out of their own pockets. Here they can apply for a grant," she said.

The fund continues to build its principal, using the yearly interest for the grants. In addition to Kaufman's donations, other groups have helped the fund grow.

In 2000, the Rowland Council PTA donated $10,000 to Shirley's fund. It also contributes to the annual teacher grants.

This year, grants totaling $6,400 were given out to 16 outstanding teachers.

In addition to the LCD projectors, teachers purchased a document camera and an InterWrite School Pad to integrate the latest technologies into instruction.

Kaufman hopes that others will contribute to the memorial fund so more teachers can benefit.

Meanwhile, his unswerving devotion to his wife's memory answers the question of how strong love is.

(626) 962-8811, Ext. 2801

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