They are retiring as a package deal.
Escalon Unified School District is not losing just one Heflin at the end of the 2020-21 school year; it is losing two.
Longtime Escalon High School teacher and coach Rick Heflin and his wife Sue, an elementary teacher with the district for over two decades, are planning to trade in school bells for travel trailer adventures.
Rick Heflin has taught for 34 years, the first five at Vista and the last 29 at Escalon High School. He has also spent 32 of those years coaching, including 14 years with wrestling, 15 with track and field, 32 with cross country.
Sue Heflin started her teaching career in Turlock and has been an educator for 35 years. She was in the Turlock Unified School District for the first 12 years, then made the move to Escalon. Here, she started with a combination second-third grade class at Farmington Elementary, then spent nine years teaching fifth grade at Dent.
When the district boundaries were re-drawn, she moved to Van Allen, where she taught fourth grade for six years and, the last three, has been teaching third grade.
Rick Heflin also took on many other duties, along with the teaching and coaching, he served as the Key Club advisor, worked with mock trial, was a debate coach, headed up the Chess Club, worked on school beautification and was involved in Academic Decathlon.
“I was just immersed into everything,” he admitted, noting that he never got to take a summer off because, even though he wasn’t teaching, he was always busy with some extracurricular project related to school.
“My wife and I both put ourselves through school,” he said of their early life together. “I worked two full-time jobs, she worked part-time.”
As a result, Sue was able to start her career just a little ahead of Rick, who briefly considered continuing on to veterinary school.
“I decided I didn’t want to spend four more years in school,” he explained. “I was ready to just start something.”
And that something turned into a more than three decade affiliation with Escalon Unified School District.
At Vista, he taught math, science and art. At EHS, he has taught computers, math, and the physical sciences.
“You’ve got to have some changes in order to grow,” he said of teaching in several different areas. “Physics is the most fun because there’s more discovery … I learn from the kids, that’s the best part.”
Admittedly, the thought of actually retiring is a little daunting for Rick.
“I don’t want to stagnate,” he said. “I’ve always had a deadline, I’ve always done something.”
Sue is hoping to keep him busy, as they are planning to take to the road and fit in some cross country travel with a travel trailer they have outfitted for the retired life.
Sue, like Rick, has been involved in many other areas, from Parent Teacher organizations, working with the Harvest Festival at Van Allen, even suiting up a couple of times for the Park Fete run.
“He’s the runner, not me,” she said, chuckling.
Rick was a wrestler in college and while he did get the chance to coach that sport, it was being thrust into cross country, taking over for longtime coach Pete Arellano many years ago, that sparked a new love. He has since participated in marathons, ultra events and fun runs, as well as taking cross country kids on training weekends. One memorable time was when they had to deal with snow, which he said many Escalon teens had never experienced. Of course, he said, a snowball fight eventually ensued.
Many of his former students and athletes have kept in touch, Rick said, and he has good memories and plenty of notable moments from his career. Among them, being able to be part of the Olympic Torch Relay in 2002, based on a nomination from his students. He ran six segments of the course when it went through Sacramento. He has also crossed paths with Olympians, who have been instrumental in working with EHS kids at camps, and he has seen many of his wrestling, track and cross country athletes compete at the state level.
He was also honored as the 1999 state Cross Country Coach of the Year, nominated by the coach in Bret Harte.
Ultimately, for Rick, his career has always had one focus.
“It’s all about the kids,” he said.
Rick and Sue have two grown children, Matthew, who has returned to live in Escalon and is a tutor; and Katie, who moved to the East Coast to play collegiate softball and now is the Chief Business Officer for a large church in New Jersey.
Both Rick and Sue have been recognized with the Teacher of the Year award for EUSD and Sue said she has enjoyed all the different grade levels she has taught, but has also seen plenty of changes through the years.
“The kids are very different from when I was starting,” she said. “Then, we also had curriculum that was suggested but we had more flexibility. You had to learn the art of being a teacher.”
With nearly 70 years of combined experience between them, it’s a fair bet to say Rick and Sue Heflin have mastered that art.