Anne Chambers | HOMETOWN HERO

Part of everyone’s life is ‘letting go’ — letting go of relationships, dreams, titles, opinions, hurts or resentments.

Anne Chambers smiles for a picture while laying in a Coupeville hosptial bed. The well-known South Whidbey schools tutor has stage-four cancer and “laying around” is not something she’s used to.

Part of everyone’s life is ‘letting go’ — letting go of relationships, dreams, titles, opinions, hurts or resentments.

Anne Chambers, ‘Miss Anne,’ a full time SW schools volunteer for 14 years, has tried to master when and how to let go.

As a child she let go of some athletic desires due to polio, she let go of wishing for caring, involved parents, later letting go of her negative marriage.

Fifteen years ago she had to let go of her career with animal studies at the university, after she underwent a common knee surgery that didn’t heal. What followed was a downward spiral into depression.

“I knew I had to do something, but what? Someone mentioned to me about kids in need of tutors at the local schools. I loved my own three kids, but to be honest other people’s kids were not my favorite,” she says.

“But I was getting desperate, so I drove to the South Whidbey Middle School and asked if they needed tutors. A Langley Middle School teacher, Sandy Gilbert, invited me into her room. I didn’t take to it right away, but with Sandy’s help and her trust in me I began to love tutoring.”

“I respected Sandy, and learned a lot from her and soon I loved the kids. It all began with blind faith. Who would have thought a bad knee would lead me to my greatest passion in life, and that would be with kids! But there I was. And boy was I wrong about kids, they are awesome,” she says.

Fred McCarthy, a former South Whidbey superintendent and current mayor of Langley, says he has great admiration and respect for Chambers.

“She inspired me to be a better school superintendent by regularly telling me the success stories of students and her hopes for their academic progress and success in life,” McCarthy says. “She believes in the potential of each student in her care. She inspires an attitude in each student of ‘I can learn mathematics.’ And her passion inspires all who are proud to be teachers and administrators.”

One of her former students, John Castings, credits his success to Chambers.

“I only lived on South Whidbey a short time, but during that time with Miss Anne’s tutoring help, I not only gained an ability to do math, but I came away with a belief in myself that I could amount to something,” he says. “She believed in me, even though my parents gave up on me. Miss Anne was tough, funny, and would not let me give up on myself. Because of her I am accomplishing way beyond what I could have imagined.”

Parenting is a serious role to take on and Chambers says, “You have to be committed. It’s important for parents not to desert their kids, especially in middle school and high school years.”

“Some desert their kids by not being available, or not setting standards or failing to follow through. Some parents sadly give parenting a bad name. Please parents, put your kids first,” she says.

Chambers says there are times we need to let go with our children. She’s proud of her three adult children and grandchildren, though her heart grows heavy when she thinks of her eldest daughter.

“After the divorce, our daughter Shawn went to live with my ex-husband and has not spoken to me for decades,” she says. “I remain very open and hopeful she might change her mind, however I have had to let go of expecting this will happen.”

Animals, she says, are a lot easier than humans.

“I have always loved them, especially horses; people aren’t as forgiving, or loving, or fuzzy as animals are,” said Chambers, smiling slyly.

Asking her what animals she is most like, she answers instantly, “Oh a fattened pig full of food. There is nothing eloquent about me. I don’t dress pretty or look pretty, and I blurt out my thoughts. Someone I think that does fit an eloquent description is Langley’s Fred McCarthy; he knows how to be level-headed under all circumstances. Fred knows how to inspire and teach people by being a model. We can learn something from everyone, but with Fred I have learned a lot.”

Paul Kukuk, fellow volunteer tutor, states, “If there ever was a hometown hero it is Anne Chambers. She has volunteered for years and years at Langley Middle School and South Whidbey High School. She has lived on nearly nothing, yet everyday she’s been at the schools helping kids with a burning passion. In addition she has been a mentor to many students. An internet security question often asked is ‘who was your favorite teacher?’ I hope I am not giving away someone’s security answer but over the years people will look back and say, “Anne Chambers.” I think Anne is living proof that you don’t need to be a mathematician, a certified teacher, a doctor, psychiatrist or a pastor to make a positive mark on a young person’s life.”

Andy Davis, South Whidbey High School math teacher, says, “Anne has helped me in my classes for over five years every day all day and before and after school too. She’s as much of a teacher as I am, though she’s a volunteer. At first the kids weren’t quite sure how to take Anne, as she can be gruff. But her smart aleck sense of humor quickly reached the kids and they love her like a grandmother. She often says off-hand comments, and everyone starts rolling around laughing.

“She suggested we use peer students from my advanced math classes to help those struggling with math. Her idea has been a win/win for all.

“This year she is not able to be here, and we are struggling to fill her gigantic gap.”

Chambers, during the start of this article, found out she had stage four cancer and the doctors give her little time. She is now having to let go of her life as she knows it here on earth. She had to let go of her home, a single-wide trailer she’s rented. She’s slumped over in her wheel chair at Careage now. Her communication is slow, and it’s hard work for her to keep her mind on track. Her face grimaces as she’s in a lot of pain.

It’s so frustrating not being able to think well, she says, while sincerely apologizing for her slowness as if she has control over it. Then she loses her train of thought again, but not her sense of humor. Pretending to put a quarter in her arm, she instantly acts as one of those penny arcade mannequins, stiffly raising her arm up and offers a few more words.

“I thought I had so much more to do with kids and education. I just earned my teacher’s certificate. I’m not ready to let go of my life and the kids,” Chambers says.

Sighing, she adds, “But then even my own life isn’t really about me. I have to believe in someone greater than myself. This belief, and the knowing that many of you will carry on the work for kids, will help me to let go of my life as I know it.”


What others say about Anne Chambers

“Anne has been a constant source of positive attitude on the middle school campus. Always quick with a smile and a warm inviting word, Anne gently works her magic with students throughout the day and after school hours. I have witnessed Anne working diligently with a student helping explain math in a way that was patient, intelligent, and caring. She is truly a gift to all the many students she has served and the teachers like me who can only feed off her constant optimism. We love her dearly.”

— Erik Jokinen, physical eduction teacher, Langley Middle School


“Anne has dedicated her life, time, energy, and finances to help students who are struggling to find success. Anna, our daughter, would not be surviving high school, let alone survived middle school, without Miss Anne … . Even when we were having issues to get her support from the school itself, Miss Anne saw that there was more to the story and that she was a bright girl but some link was missing. Anne supported her with learning as well as kept an eye on her socialization, and friends. Anna and Miss Anne became very good friends and she would check in with Miss Anne every day.”

— Lori Cavender, Ryan’s House founder and director


“Nobody gave more to the kids of South Whidbey than Anne. And nobody asked for less in return. She was tireless and patient in her dedicated efforts to help them succeed, and overcame obstacles in the tutor program that often seemed insurmountable. Anne proved to be the most selfless and competent tutor and mentor to these kids that I have seen in the 10 years I’ve been a tutor at Langley Middle School. She deserves every reward there is for a truly dedicated warrior for the cause.”

— Bill Leeds, South Whidbey resident


“Miss Anne is not only my tutor but also my role model. Anne has helped me not only in math but also in life problems. Anne is a wonderful lady who knows how to tackle any curveball. From horses to algebra II, Anne knows it all.”

— Anna Cavender, South Whidbey High School student


“During my years as a teacher at Langley Middle School Anne Chambers was a powerful presence in those hallowed halls, serving as a tutor and mentor to so many of our students.  Amidst all the struggles around programs and money and how it was going to get done, Anne just got in there and did it — she served kids. Anne is one of those rare people who ‘calls it as she sees it’ and has served as an inspiration to me in a million and one ways.”

— Susie Richards, co-director of Service, Education & Adventure (SEA)


“She was an expert in identifying and understanding the nature of people, and always gave great advice on how to co-exist with annoying people. We’d frequently have discussions about conflicting relationships we had in our lives. I would often seek justice and fairness for the tragedies I had suffered and she seemed to always try to convince me to let things go. When I would report resolution of an issue, she’d celebrate with me and support me. Always to my amazement, she never held a grudge or harbored resentment against those who had hurt her the most. I think that was one of the greatest lessons I learned from her. I am now able to focus more on having inner peace rather than winning a battle.”

— Laura Volpe, daughter


“When I am with Anne I feel like I can say anything, express myself freely and she understands. We laugh a lot together but underneath she is as serious and passionate about our students’ well-being as anyone I’ve met. Not only does she tutor, she mentors. I love Anne because she is sometimes a renegade but always focused on the best outcome for our kids. I have nothing but the highest respect for Anne Chambers; she makes a difference.”

— Marilynn Norby, South Whidbey schools’ Homeless Liaison Family Student Support


“‘Miss Anne.’ What a treasure for South Whidbey School District. She loves working with kids and it shows. Her sense of humor and patience have won many a student over, that did not ‘need any help in math.’ Oh how I wish I had a Miss Anne to tutor me or my kids in math. Just that little bit of extra help and caring has made a huge difference to so many.”

— Sara Beust, South Whidbey teacher


“I have been friends with Anne for 13 years now. I just love her wicked sense of humor. She is so funny. We laugh all the time. Anne is an amazing person. I feel lucky to have this humorous, head-strong, stubborn and loving woman as my friend.”

— Diane Fallon, close friend


“Anne is one of the most dedicated volunteers I have ever encountered. She cares deeply about all of her kids. They all affectionately call her ‘Miss Anne’ yet show her the respect and admiration that she has earned. I love Anne’s sense of humor which is self-deprecating and a wonderful mixture of sarcasm, irony and playful kidding, which she delivers with a sly smile and a twinkle in her eyes. I love Anne. She is a beacon of hope and belief in the value and worth of every child she has ever met.”

— Clyde Monma, school volunteer

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