Von Driska saw the best in kids

BOB PRATTE
   Out of respect, I won't call the late and much-loved teacher Darrell Von Driska a Hemetian.

   Von Driska sadly died at age 74 on Wednesday, Sept. 18. An extremely aggressive form of cancer took the life of the Hemet teacher, coach and founding board member of the Valley-Wide Recreation and Park District. Memorial services for Von Driska will be at 10 a.m. Saturday, Sept. 28, in a most fitting place — Hemet High’s athletic stadium.

   Just as appropriately, a reception will follow at Valley-Wide’s Regional Park on Esplanade Avenue in San Jacinto.

   With a lot of respect, I will say he is a Hemetite. I also will call him Mr. Hemet, which is a most deserved title.

   The lover of all things Hemet 
hated my constant use of the term Hemetian to describe someone from his town. He preferred Hemetite so much that he asked the Hemet Heritage Foundation to pass a resolution deeming it the proper title.

   Von Driska, who graduated from Hemet High in 1957, was an advocate of his hometown first and the rest of the San Jacinto Valley a close second.

   He was biased about all things Hemet. He lived in the area at a time when the San Jacinto-Hemet rivalry was
especially heated in a usually fun way. He remained unhappy that when he played football at Hemet High, the Bulldogs lost to San Jacinto.

   Von Driska grew up in Hemet when it was a little farm town. His parents ran the 
popular Von’s Restaurant in two San Jacinto Valley locations during the late 1940s and the early 1950s. He went to Little Lake School at a time when kids walked to class shoeless during warmweather barefoot season. If a police officer saw kids do something wrong in those days, he liked to tell me, their parents simply would be called.

   Von Driska graduated from LaVerne College (now University of LaVerne) in 1961. He served in the Peace Corps. His mission in life upon his return home became working with San Jacinto Valley kids. He was a Hemet school district teacher from 1966 to 2003. He kept teaching for several years toward the end of his career despite knowing that his retirement pay would be about the same as his teaching salary.

   He was a founding board member of the Valley-Wide Recreation and Park District, which was started in 1972 to provide recreational opportunities for kids. He served as a Hemet High football 
coach from 1966 until his death. He most enjoyed working with freshman and junior varsity teams.

   He was a constant talker who also was quite sensitive. He spoke sadly about missing his wife, Linda, who died in 2000 after 23 years of marriage. He was hurt when he lost his long-held Valley-Wide board seat in the 2008 election.

   Word about his cancer spread quickly. He had lots of visitors in his final days.

   I posted readers’ words of praise that can be found on my PE.com   blog. Many comments were about what Von Driska did for them and their kids.

   Hemetite Marshall McIntyre noted how Von Driska saw the best in kids. “When my son was about to be cut off the freshman football team, as he was too small, Darrell interceded on his behalf and made sure he made the team,” McIntyre wrote. “My son grew and ended up a two-year starter and made varsity as sophomore.”

   Liza Vondriska, the student government assistant at West 
Valley High, wrote about typical Von Driska behavior. She wrote that he called her home when he saw her name in the phone book after her family moved to Hemet about 10 years ago. He wondered if they were related. They probably weren't.

   “He found out that my husband at the time was deployed to Iraq and that my daughters and I were new to Hemet,” she wrote. “He took it upon himself to call me almost every week just to make sure we were OK.”

   They met at the closing of the Vietnam Moving Wall exhibit in San Jacinto when her now ex-husband returned home.

   “He became a great part of our family, coming to band concerts and school plays. He loved this valley, he loved his football, he loved art. We were blessed that he was able to come to my daughter’s graduation this past May, but my true blessing come from being able to say I knew this amazing man.”

   A lot of Hemetites feel the same way.

   Contact Bob Pratte at 951-763-3452, bpratte@pe.com   or 3400 Wentworth Drive, Hemet 92545. Find Bob’s blog 
at blog. pe.com/author/bobpratte   and follow him on Facebook at www.facebook.com/PE.BobPratte   and Twitter: @bpratte
FILE PHOTO

   Darrell Von Driska, a longtime teacher and coach in Hemet, died Wednesday, Sept. 18.
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