Dan Strite retired from his position as golf pro at The Highlands Gold Club in Gearhart about seven years ago. By then, Astoria’s Gray Alternative High School had been around for five years.
“I don’t even think I called ahead,” said Strite, now 82, who started bringing fresh produce and support to Gray School five years ago and has been an under-the-radar advocate for its students ever since.
“Of all the things in our society that can be improved … it’s the young people I see as great opportunity.”
Strite, who has also mentored students with Clatsop County’s Caring Adults Devolving Youth program, said it really hit him the influence he was having on the students a couple years ago. He approached a group at Gray School, all wearing baseball caps indoors. Strite, who said every generation had its form of protest against authority, asked whether wearing caps inside was theirs.
“And two or three minutes later, there was this one student who had his cap off and in his lap,” said Strite. “It was fascinating. It told me someone was listening.”
To this day, students have been connecting with Strite. He visits Gray every Tuesday with produce and an open invitation to talk with any student who wants to approach him.
“It’s pretty cool someone’s interested in what I’m doing,” said Saul Alcontar, 17, a junior who’s been attending Gray for a month. “I got carrots out of it, too.”
Strite often brings homegrown carrots, bathed in cold water to sweeten them, to the students in class.
Shonna Priebe, 17, who nicknamed Strite at “The Carrot Man,” said the carrots, oranges and advice lets them know that Strite cares about Gray School’s students.
Alexa Knutsen, head of Gray School, said the program has focused on bringing in community members with relatively similar life experiences to the students, many of whom are teen parents and household providers.
“For these kids, their academic day is intertwined with all types of activities,” said Lyndsay Harris, a new instructional assistant at Gray and drug and alcohol counselor for the district. She does yoga with the students.
They often leave the classroom for field trips and service in the community, such as reading to first-graders at John Jacob Astor Elementary School.
“They know when a person is coming in and genuinely cares for them,” said Harris of volunteers such as Strite and Frank Lloyd of the Astoria Christian Church, which brings food on Fridays.
Strite and the staff at Gray recently organized a checkers tournament on Tuesdays. They approached local businesses and received donated prizes, including a zip-line tour at High Life Adventures, free bowling at Lower Columbia Bowl and swimming at the Astoria Aquatic Center.
Anyone interested in meeting with students or helping Gray in any other ways can contact the school at 503-325-3137 or visit its second-floor classroom in the eastern side of the Capt. Robert Gray School, located at 785 Alameda Ave. in Astoria.
Since retirement, Strite hasn’t been able to remain idle.
In 2012, after what he said was a suggestion from Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden, Strite ran in the Democratic primary for Oregon’s 1st Congressional District, coming in fourth with 1.59 percent of the vote in an election won by Suzanne Bonamici. Strite said his two main messages during the campaign were for the U.S. to get out of the war business and govern by compromise.
Strite, who is originally from Eugene and moved to Astoria 63 years ago to be assistant golf pro at the Astoria Golf & Country Club, has lived in Clatsop County for 40 years.
In addition to being a Gray School mentor, he volunteers at the Astoria Rescue Mission, the Start Making a Reader Today (SMART) program and is a master gardener with the Oregon State University Extension Service.
As the “Humor Extraordinare,” Strite makes himself available for charity performances, in which he sings, jokes, performs magic, tells stories and plays games. He gathers donations for his performances and conveys them to the charity for no fee. For more information on or to schedule his act, call 503-738-7528.
“I am not interested in notoriety,” said Strite. “What I do is interesting and challenging and rewarding from that point. But if I do any good, I want it to be for a cause.”