Television star and former Ferndale resident recognizes influential teacher
From the February 2, 2017 print edition
Guy Fieri, the Food Network star and former Ferndale resident, made his eighth grade teacher cry on Friday.
Fran Moriarty Fischer is now busy deciding where in the world she would like to take a cruise to after Fieri, a student in Fischer’s class some 36 years ago, told her in the Ferndale Elementary School gym during a video shoot for the California Lottery that he was sending her on a cruise to thank her for being a teacher that influenced his life.
“This is something I’ve wanted to do forever,” said Fieri, who was in Ferndale for two days shooting promotions for the California Lottery that will be seen on an internet campaign designed to promote the lottery and education. “Not everyone can give their teacher a cruise but everyone can thank their teachers.”
Fieri, said Fischer, was a small, talkative eighth grader with a “very big heart.” She encouraged him to get involved with the first National History Day Contest with an entry about his “Awesome Pretzel Cart” that he and his father, Jim, had built and that would propel Fieri into his business and food career.
“I wasn’t a real good student at the time,” said Fieri. “But she really encouraged me. On the day of the presentation, Fran drove to Ferndale from Eureka, picked me and the pretzel cart up, and drove me to Humboldt State. I did the competition and ended up winning, which took me to the national competition in Washington, D.C.”
Fieri said that winning the local and state National History Day Contests was a “really big deal” for him. “It was an influential time for me and was a huge launch pad, kinda like seeing the forest for the trees,” recalled Fieri. “After that, I finished the school year with better grades than I had ever had and went on to high school.”
Fieri attended Ferndale High before heading to France in his junior year for as a foreign exchange student.
“I’ve always credited Charlie Davidson (another retired Ferndale Elementary School teacher) for kicking my ass and then Fran for molding it,” joked Fieri. “I wasn’t paying attention in class and Charlie got me to do that. When I got in trouble for talking in class and had to stay after school, I was really upset. I hadn’t stayed after school once that year and Fran sat there and said, ‘you just have to control your information.’ Those were the types of things that said at the right time from the right people make the biggest difference in your life. So, I’ve always had this admiration for my teachers.”
Fast forward to 2017 and when Fieri was selected by the California Lottery to be part of a campaign aimed at clarifying the lottery’s contributions to California schools and to promote education, his connection with his eighth grade teacher came full circle.
“I’ve always wanted to tell this teacher what she did for me, and I wanted others to hear it,” said Fieri. “I told the lottery people that I don’t want to do this because I need another project. She represents all teachers than have unsung positions and should be getting recognition.”
And when Fieri described the “picturesque” town that he grew up in, where “everyone participates in the schools,” the lottery was sold on Fieri being the celebrity for the campaign.
“We needed someone to fit our brand and was appropriate and had an authentic story to tell,” said the lottery’s Russ Lopez, deputy director of the corporate communications division. “Guy Fieri was one of everyone’s top picks. It was a no brainer. He appreciates where he comes from.”
Lopez said the campaign is aimed at showing that the lottery is supportive of public education but also to explain that the lottery won’t solve all of education’s problems.
“One of the things Governor Brown wanted us to talk about in a real and honest way is what the California Lottery is actually doing for public schools,” said Lopez. “Some of the problems originated in 1984 when the California Lottery Act was passed and that was that we were going to solve all the schools’ problems and that was not the case. There was $1.5 billion-plus given to public education last year from the lottery but that’s a modest amount after you divide it between K-12 schools, community college campuses and the CSU and UC campuses. People don’t realize that it is applied to all those institutions.”
That $1.5 billion was part of $6.5 billion in lottery ticket sales.
The Ferndale Unified School District last year received $105,931 and spent $53,869 on personnel costs; $3,305 on textbooks and $16,734 on materials and supplies. The remainder was carried over to this year’s budget, according to the district’s business manager.
Meanwhile, the lottery filming crew after concluding a shoot in an elementary school classroom with Fieri headed to Ferndale High to film in the school’s updated foods room and learn about its “farm-to-table” culinary program. District Superintendent Jack Lakin did not respond to a request for comment for this story.
In another plus for Ferndale, People Magazine sent a photographer to cover Fieri’s trip to Ferndale last week. Lopez said a story will be on People.com and that he’s waiting to hear if the print edition will also be running a story. As for Fischer — who taught eighth grade for three years and kindergarten for three years at FES before heading to Cutten Ridgewood Elementary School for 26 years — she has yet to decide where she will take her cruise. As she wiped away tears last Friday she remembered Fieri’s family inviting her to dinner several times throughout the school year.
“Where in the world do people invite the teacher over for dinner?” she said. “This is such an amazing place.” And as for Fieri’s success, Fischer said she knew her former student was “going places. “I was surprised at the immensity of his success but I knew he’d be a success,” she said. “His parents wouldn’t let him be anything but a success. That’s what every kid needs, cheerleaders behind them.”