Home Opinion Editorials Darla Sunderman: 1940 - 2009
Darla Sunderman: 1940 - 2009
Spending a day in court is an arduous experience for most people.
La Grande High School graduates might beg to differ — that is, if they had Darla Sunderman as their mock trial coach.
Sunderman helped many students experience some of the most fulfilling moments of their lives in courtrooms.Sunderman, who died Aug. 24 of cancer at age 69, served as the LHS mock trial coach for about 10 years through 2002. On an almost annual basis, she led her teams to the state mock trial championships at the Multnomah County Courthouse. She did so while inspiring students to learn the intricacies of America’s legal system.
Sunderman, an English and speech teacher at LHS, led her teams to victories with firm but heartfelt leadership.
“I thought of her as a friend as much as I did a teacher,’’ said Lucas Kruse, a student of Sunderman’s and later one of her assistant mock trial team coaches.
Sunderman had a gift for inspiring confidence. Perhaps it was because she talked to all people as equals, whether they were age 3 or 70.
“She was a remarkably non-judgmental person,’’ said Virginia Linkenhover of La Grande, a good friend.
Sunderman touched the lives of far more than the students on her mock trial teams during a 17-year teaching career at LHS. She opened up her heart like few others to students deemed misfits and outcasts by their peers.
Sunderman cared so for them that she designated her classroom a “safe room.’’ Students being hassled or bullied could come to the teacher’s classroom anytime and know that they would be welcome and secure.
When Sunderman was not reaching out to vulnerable students or introducing young people to the legal world, she was inspiring them to read. Sunderman, a voracious reader, always had books in her classroom that she gave to students. The popular teacher sometimes would go several steps further, personally delivering stacks of books to the homes of students, said Robert Sunderman, Darla’s husband of 49 years.
Sunderman did all this without taking herself seriously or losing her sense of humor.
Many people may remember the time she told her mock trial team she would dye her hair purple if it qualified for state. The team made state and Sunderman kept her promise, teaching classes for three days while sporting purple hair.
Sunderman, ever the educator, did not idle her summers away. Many were spent at the Cove Warm Springs Pool teaching young people to swim with her father, Harvey Carter, and sisters, Lanetta and Barbara. Indeed, a remarkable number of people in the Grande Ronde Valley today say they know how to swim in large part because of Darla Sunderman and her family.
Darla extended the legacy of her father, Harvey, and mother, Genevieve, both longtime educators in the La Grande School District, while forging a teaching career. Harvey Carter is best remembered as the principal of La Grande Junior High School and Genevieve as a grade school teacher.
Darla Sunderman took pride in extending her parents’ teaching legacy — the same type of pride all the students who can claim Darla as one of their teachers will forever feel.