Madera Tribune File Photo
Ed Gwartney is shown here preparing a group of James Monroe students to take on the role of docents in the James Monroe Children’s Museum. At this station Gwartney is teaching his students how to teach visiting children to make ropes. The highly respected educator died Tuesday, just hours before the school board changed the name of the museum to The Ed Gwartney California History Center in his honor.
Master educator honored by MUSD
At its meeting Tuesday night, the Madera Unified School Board added one more honor to pioneer history teacher Ed Gwartney’s long list of accolades, but he wasn’t there to receive it. Twelve hours earlier he lost his battle with cancer. In a move tinged with irony, Madera trustees, voted to change the name of the James Monroe Children’s Museum to “The Ed Gwartney California History Center on the same day he died.
Gwartney passed away Tuesday morning at his home in Chowchilla. He and his family had been making plans to attempt to attend Tuesday’s meeting, but at the last moment, he took a change for the worse, and time ran out for him.
Notwithstanding Gwartney’s death that morning, the board proceeded with its plans to honor him with the name change. A large contingent of teachers and administrators, most of them from James Monroe School, attended Tuesday’s meeting to support the move. They were led by two of Gwartney’s museum partners, Sandra Carter and Susan Miller. The two retired teachers explained the origins of the museum and cited numerous instances of Gwartney’s influence on children from all over the Valley.
Superintendent Todd Lile added praise for Gwartney by reading a prepared statement into the record, which gave an overview of Gwartney’s life and his professional accomplishments.
The board voted unanimously in favor of the name change.
Born on Jan. 24, 1941, Gwartney and his family were part of the great Dust Bowl migration. When he was 9 months old, his mother, father, three brothers and two aunts left Oklahoma, searching for a way to survive.
The Gwartney family began its new life in the fields of California and continued to follow the crops until they settled in Chowchilla when Gwartney was 10 years old.
At the age of 17 he dropped out of high school to join the Army, in which he served in Korea and Germany. In 1959 he married Phyllis Bettes of Chowchilla. Upon his discharge from the Army, Gwartney worked in a variety of jobs, including one with the Mosquito Abatement District.
After a while, he made the decision to get an education and enrolled at Fresno City College, where he was admitted on probation because of his lack of a high school diploma. With his graduation from FCC, he matriculated at Fresno State and graduated with a degree in history.
Gwartney landed his first teaching job at Spring Valley School in O’Neals and then taught four years in Chowchilla. After that, he went to Howard School for two years and in 1985 transferred to James Monroe where he remained until his retirement in 2007.
It was during his tenure at James Monroe School that he built the Children’s Museum that brought him local, regional, and national recognition and honors.
With the assistance of two colleagues at James Monroe, Sandra Carter and Susan Miller, in 1997 he opened the museum in a portable building.
From that beginning, the museum expanded every year. An entire gold mining town, complete with boot hill, was constructed on the site. Gwartney became the director, with Carter and Miller as his assistants.
Gwartney retired in 2007 but continued to direct the museum on a part-time basis. He was forced to leave his dream in 2016 for health reasons.
Gwartney is one of Madera Unified’s most decorated teachers. He was named Teacher of the Year by the Oregon/California Trails Association. He won the State Golden Bell Award for his school, and in 2004, the California Council for Social Studies named him Elementary Teacher of the Year. Gwartney was twice selected Distinguished Teacher of the Year by his colleagues at James Monroe.
Gwartney is survived by his wife of 60 years, Phyllis; his daughter Kelly Hollman and her husband, Alan; son Jeff Gwartney and his wife Heather; and son Chris Gwartney and partner Christa Meyer.
He is also survived by his brother Don Gwartney and wife Betty; grandchildren Whitney Hollman, Landon Hollman and his wife, Taryn Padgett, Cydney Danisi and her husband, Gianni Danisi, Quincey Hollman, Connor Hollman and his wife Shannon, Taylor Hollman, Kinzey Hollman, Riley Hollman, Eion Hollman, Jonathan Gwartney, Jordan Gwartney, Joshua Gwartney, Damon Ladousier and Gavin Ladousier.
Gwartney is also survived by four great grandchildren: Gavin Hollman, June Padgett, Charotte Hollman, and Evelyn Swift.
A memorial service for Gwartney will be conducted on Oct. 6 at 2 p.m. at Worden Chapel, 140 S. 6th St., Chowchilla.