PORT TOWNSEND — Sigrid Cummings remembers the day she knew she wanted to marry Stan Cummings.
They were snorkeling in Hawaii with Stan’s daughters, Jennifer, 11, and Tarla, 8, and Stan began diving to the seabed and coming to the surface with marine life.
He placed his findings on a boogie board and began describing them, telling them the creatures’ names, what they ate, how they moved and where they lived.
“I had never known anyone who was so passionate or so knowledgeable about the wonders of nature,” Sigrid said. “I was hit.”
They married on April 8, 1990, and for the next 31 years Sigrid said she lived the best life she could have imagined with her best friend, someone who had dedicated her life to instilling her love of science and the natural world to children, adults, students, teachers – really, everyone he came across – as a nonprofit leader and fundraiser, most recently at the Northwest Maritime Center, 431 Water St.
So when it came to remembering Stan, naming a middle school classroom after him seemed like an appropriate gesture.
And a poignant one.
Stan Cummings died on July 13 last year, eight days after a tractor towed truck hit him while he and Sigrid were cycling on State Route 20 near Old Fort Townsend Road. He was 76 years old.
“My husband loved life and he had a sense of adventure,” Sigrid said. “I try not to think about what I lost, but what I had for 31 years.”
Whether in a classroom, on a boat, in the mountains or flipping over rocks, Sigrid said Stan takes every opportunity to connect with people, especially children, and turn them into lifelong learners. .
“So how do you engage people in the desire to learn throughout life?” Sigrid said. “You make learning exciting.”
Jennifer and Tarla Cummings (now 44 and 41) grew up thinking that every child’s life was filled with hiking, summers spent helping out at science camps, getting microscopes for Christmas and a father who, on vacation, was visiting his family on the east coast. dissected and gave an anatomy lesson on a sand shark that a cousin had captured.
Shortly after their mother passed away, Stan took them and their cat, Miranda, on a memorable two-month road trip in a pop-up motorhome. (Their parents were divorced).
“We drove all over the country and did what we wanted, we stopped and camped where we wanted and we learned so much,” said Jennifer (now Jennifer Johnson), who lives in San Diego and continued a career in clinical trials and drug development.
“What he taught me more than anything was to take every opportunity that comes your way to try something new, learn something new, or have an adventure, because that’s definitely how he lived his life,” she said.
Tarla (now Tara Moede) said that no matter where they were or what they were doing, their father always taught them about nature and the outdoors. And it was never boring.
“It was always interesting and it was always fun,” said Tarla, who lives in Colorado and works as a project manager. “He would dig up clams on the beach and eat them whole just for shock and my friends loved it.”
Sigrid said Stan’s inspiration to become an educator was a high school chemistry teacher who managed to make a subject seem fascinating, boring and uninteresting.
“He realized, ‘I could do this job better than him,'” Sigrid said. “He decided to dedicate his life to teaching science in an engaging way, not as a collection of facts and figures, but in a practical and interactive approach.”
Stan applied this approach wherever he worked, whether teaching biology in high school, developing programs for children at Yosemite Institute, or creating educational opportunities at the nonprofit Ocean Institute of Dana Point, California, which he led from 1980 to 2000.
Stan’s formidable fundraising skills also showed at the Ocean Institute. In addition to leading a $16.8 million fundraising campaign, he also raised funds to purchase the Pilgrim, a 130-foot full-size tall ship and turn it into a floating classroom. The fourth and fifth graders immersed themselves in learning about sailing and the state’s maritime history on board – exactly the kind of hands-on experience he believed was the best way to engage and learn. to excite students.
He was also excited about how new technologies could be used in education. In 1993, decades before “distance learning” became a teaching method, the Ocean Institute created a pilot project for a marine life curriculum that could be delivered to classrooms and participated at the Jason Project, a science education TV show for young people broadcast from the bottom of the ocean.
Impressed with what Stan had accomplished at the Ocean Institute, the Northwest Maritime Center hired him in 2007 as executive director to oversee construction of its Water Street campus and jump-start its $12.8 million fundraising campaign. stalled – a goal he achieved just over two years later, in March 2009, under his leadership.
Sigrid said Stan excelled at fundraising because he saw it as a means to an end: “‘If I raise more money, I can do more programs. “”
“That was his driving force, how do we positively impact students, which is my driving force to continue his legacy,” she said. “That’s how I make sense of what happened to him.”
Stan also left a legacy to his grandchildren: Johnson’s sons Finley, 5, and Tobyn, 8, and Moede’s daughter Hazel, 7, and son Oscar, 4.
While visiting Tarla’s family the year before she died, Stan took Hazel and Oscar each for a day of adventure and learning.
“He bought my daughter some fish and set up a little aquarium,” Tarla said. “They caught a crayfish and he told her about the animals.
“He gave my son a container of mealworms and we love it. We maintained it for two years and at all times we have beetles.
Even the COVID lockdown couldn’t deter him from introducing then 6-year-old Tobyn to chess by playing with him online.
The year since Stan’s death has been difficult for the family, Sigrid said.
“If Stan had lived, he would have gone into obscurity,” Sigrid said. “But because of the nature of what happened, we have the opportunity to have a meaningful impact on the lives of more children so that his legacy continues.”
The Stan Cummings Classroom is part of that legacy. Gifts made in Stan’s name that began arriving at the Northwest Maritime Center shortly after his death were used to purchase audio-visual equipment already used for distance learning – a teaching method Stan would have appreciated after his experience working with the Jason Project 25 years ago. , said Sigrid.
He continues his mission to foster a love of learning through discovery, exploration and curiosity which Sigrid said was essential to who he was as a person and a teacher.
“When I was snorkeling that day, I knew life with Stan would be an adventure,” Sigrid says. “And it was.”
Journalist Paula Hunt can be reached at [email protected]
For more information and to donate in memory of Stan Cummings which supports Northwest Maritime Center’s youth programs, go to https://tinyurl.com/3cnrzk7x.
The Ocean Institute has established the Stan Cummings Scholarship Internship Fund to support its Academy of Ocean Science Careers and Internships. For more information and to donate, go to https://tinyurl.com/6ja9c6sn.