How do you begin to say goodbye to Hillsides after a 50-year-career – a span of time equaling almost half of Hillsides existence?
If you’re Kurtis Ranslem, the beloved “science guy” at the Hillsides Education Center (HEC), you leave probably a lot like you entered -- with a quiet dignity, pride in your work, intense dedication to the children, and a sense of humor.
“Hillsides has kept me young,” he noted with a smile, “and made me old.”
Kurtis began his career at Hillsides in 1968. A recent graduate of UCLA with a psychology degree, he first worked at the cottages as a childcare counselor. He was then promoted several times, ultimately ending up as campus program director. For 10 years, he concurrently worked at Edison as a proofreader.
For the last 25 years, he has worked as a substitute teacher and science guru for HEC. Only teacher Debbie Szilagi-Johnson beats him out as the teacher with the longest tenure at the school. He began at the school as a crisis interventionist. After becoming a credentialed substitute teacher and earning a degree in zoology from California State University, Los Angeles, he began assistant teaching and teaching science in the classroom.
Some of his fondest memories are when he worked in residential and took children on camping trips. He remembers one trip to Anza-Borrego, where he and a young boy named David shared a love of nature and discovery when they stumbled upon a shovel-nosed snake. “He really wanted to take it home, but I explained that this was home for the snake and he understood. It was rewarding to share that moment with him,” he said.
Working for Hillsides for 50 years is a first for any employee. Along the way Kurtis hit other markers, such as being the first on-call staffer and the first night supervisor.
While Kurtis has been here too long to sugar-coat his experience – admitting that no matter how hard he tried, he simply couldn’t get through to some kids to help them, the successes remain sweet. “Whether it’s getting a kid to calm down or having a kid return to tell you he’s either in college or has a good job, it’s good to realize you did make a difference.”
One consistent element of work he has enjoyed is the Hillsides’ staff. “They are a cut above - very dedicated, well-educated, well-meaning and just good people,” he said.
Over the years Kurtis has spent his free time traveling the world. “I’ve been on every continent and every ocean,” he said. His goal in retirement is to travel local, taking in the country’s national parks, and also to spend his time volunteering as a nature docent and a boy scout merit badge counselor.
He’s retiring for a lot of reasons, but one in particular stands out: “I’ve done a half century here and that seems like an outstanding accomplishment on its own to end on.”
We couldn’t agree more, and thank Kurtis for his years of service to Hillsides and the children. Friday, June 29, is his last day. If you see him before he leaves, please tell our resident “science guy” how much he will be missed.