Shearer is back at Shearer

School’s first principal regains place of honor
2013-03-05T21:23:00Z 2013-03-06T23:05:21Z Shearer is back at ShearerKEVIN COURTNEY Napa Valley Register
March 05, 2013 9:23 pm  • 

After 10 years of being stuffed away in storage, John Shearer is back at the school that carries his name.

Three weeks ago, an imposing oil painting from the 1920s of this distinguished early Napa educator was rehung in the bustling office of Shearer Charter School on Elm Street.

Things haven’t been the same since.

“I tell the kids he has cameras in his eyes and he’s watching us,” Jeannette Salinas, an office clerk, said of the towering presence of the school’s namesake.

In his dark jack, vest and tie, the mustachioed, silver-haired Shearer stands out like a visage from a ghostly past in today’s colorful school office where a mural of nursery rhymes dominates the walls and children chatter in English and Spanish.

To office clerk Ana LaVoy, the nearly full-length painting is a comforting, yet sobering presence. “I think he’s my bodyguard,” she said. At the same time, “He’s making sure I do my work.”

Shearer was an early Napa County educator whose career spanned 19th and 20th centuries, said principal Olivia McCormick-Pippert. He was principal when the original Shearer school opened on Feb. 21, 1922, having previously been elected county superintendent of schools in 1883.

Shearer posed for the oil painting sometime in the 1920s, McCormick-Pippert said, perhaps around the time of his retirement as principal in 1927. The painting hung at the school for decades.

This is very much old-school portraiture, with Shearer looking like a titan of Wall Street or perhaps a university president of a century ago. It’s hard to imagine him joining the students in frivolity in the school yard.

In the 1970s, the original Shearer — an imposing two-story brick building deemed seismically unsafe — was torn down and the current one-story building put up in its place.

The portrait of Shearer president over the new building until about 10 years ago when it was put into storage while the campus was renovated, McCormick-Pippert said. Then it was apparently forgotten.

In January, third-grade teacher Matthew Lernhart, a Napa native, inquired about the missing portrait. In short order, the painting, which had been packed away for safety, was restored to pride of place in the school office, overlooking students, parents and staff who pass through.

It’s good to have John Shearer back, said Lernhart. “Napa is a very historical town. It’s wonderful to be part of that history.”

In his classroom, Lernhart displays the 1914 diploma of his grandfather, Mervin Lernhart, from the “grammar school Napa district.” It is signed by John Shearer, president of the “county board of education.”

With its gold seal, the document is a more impressive document than his own college diploma, Lernhart said.

Sizing up Shearer’s portrait in the school office, Lernhart said he “looks kind and he looks serious at the same time, and he looks intelligent.

Wendy Kellham, a school librarian, smiles approvingly on having Shearer back at Shearer. “It shows Shearer has been here a long time and we’re carrying on a tradition he would approve of,” she said.

The custodian is perhaps more aware of the legacy of John Shearer than anyone else, McCormick-Pippert said. When the building creates at night, “he swears the Shearer ghost is here.”

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(5) Comments

  1. publiusa
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    publiusa - March 06, 2013 7:08 am
    It would be nice if the comment about Mr. Shearer looking like a titan of Wall Street or a university president could be prescient of today's teachers.
  2. Lowrider
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    Lowrider - March 06, 2013 8:32 am
    I worked for the school system when the new school was built. I had the pleasure of moving everything from the old school to the new one. It was a great summer job. I worked for Kathy Keene, the head custodian. I even got a head from one of the gargoyles at the top of the old school.
  3. Lowrider
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    Lowrider - March 06, 2013 1:08 pm
    Does anybody know where I can find pictures of the old school?
  4. Napa
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    Napa - March 06, 2013 3:56 pm
    I'm a Napa history buff also and have Mervin Lernhart's old turn of the century huge desk signed by him on the bottom middle drawer. He was a Napa lawyer for decades here in town. It's always neat to read about Napa's colorful history!!.
  5. Napasince1850
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    Napasince1850 - March 06, 2013 5:05 pm
    What a great story. Thank you Mr. Matthew Lernhart for remembering that the portrait existed and sharing your grandfather's diploma. Thank you for all you do for your students and your community. I wonder if other treasures of Napa history are in storage and could be brought back out to share on display in schools or the library. A curious mind - inspired by my favorite teacher of all time!
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