Naming a classroom after her late husband, former Northwest Maritime Center executive director Stan Cummings, is the best way to honor the memory of a man who spent his life promoting education and encouraging life-long learning says Sigrid Cummings. The couple had been married 31 years when Stan Cummings was killed in a bicycling accident in 2021. (Steve Mullensky/for Peninsula Daily News)

Naming a classroom after her late husband, former Northwest Maritime Center executive director Stan Cummings, is the best way to honor the memory of a man who spent his life promoting education and encouraging life-long learning says Sigrid Cummings. The couple had been married 31 years when Stan Cummings was killed in a bicycling accident in 2021. (Steve Mullensky/for Peninsula Daily News)

Stan Cummings remembered with classroom named in his honor

Late Northwest Maritime Center executive director dedicated to encouraging life-long learning

PORT TOWNSEND — Sigrid Cummings remembers the day she knew she wanted to marry Stan Cummings.

They were snorkeling in Hawaii with Stan’s daughters, Jennifer, 11, and Tarla, 8, and Stan began diving to the seabed and returning to the surface with marine life.

He placed his discoveries on a boogie board and proceeded to describe them, telling them the creatures’ names, what they ate, how they moved and where they lived.

“I had never known anyone who was so passionate or so knowledgeable about the wonders of nature,” Sigrid said. “I was smitten.”

They married April 8, 1990 and for the next 31 years Sigrid said she lived the best life she could ever have imagined with her best friend, someone who had dedicated his life to instilling his love of science and the natural world to children, adults, students, teachers — really, anyone he crossed paths with — as a nonprofit leader and fundraiser, most recently at the Northwest Maritime Center, 431 Water St.

So when it came to remembering Stan, naming a classroom at the center after him seemed a fitting gesture.

And a poignant one.

Stan Cummings died on July 13 last year, eight days after a tractor towed by truck struck him while he and Sigrid were bicycling on state Highway 20 near Old Fort Townsend Road. He was 76.

“My husband loved life and he had a sense of adventure,” Sigrid said. “I try not to think about what I lost, but what I had for 31 years.”

Whether in a classroom, on a boat, in the mountains or turning over rocks, Sigrid said Stan used every opportunity to connect with people, particularly children, and turn them into lifelong learners.

“So, how do you engage people in the desire to be lifelong learners?” Sigrid said. “You make learning exciting.”

Jennifer and Tarla Cummings (now 44 and 41) grew up thinking that all kids’ lives were filled with hiking trips, summers spent assisting at science camps, getting microscopes for Christmas, and a dad who on one vacation to visit family on the East Coast dissected and provided an anatomy lesson on a sand shark a cousin had caught.

Shortly after their mother passed away, Stan took them along with their cat, Miranda, on a memorable two-month-long road trip in a pop up camper. (Their parents were divorced).

“We drove all over the country and did whatever we wanted, stopped and camped wherever we wanted and we learned so much,” said Jennifer (now Jennifer Johnson), who lives in San Diego and pursued a career in clinical trials and drug development.

“What he taught me more than anything else was to take every opportunity that ever comes your way to try something new, learn something new or have an adventure, because that’s definitely how he lived his life,” she said.

Tarla (now Tara Moede) said that no matter where they were or what they were doing, their father was always teaching them about nature and the outdoors. And it was never boring.

“It was always interesting and it was always fun,” said Tarla, who lives in Colorado and works as a project manager. “He would dig up clams on the beach and eat them whole just for shock factor and my friends just loved it.”

Sigrid said Stan’s inspiration for becoming an educator was a high school chemistry teacher who managed to make a subject he found fascinating seem dull and uninteresting.

“He realized, ‘I could do this job better than he can,’” Sigrid said. “He decided to dedicate his life to the teaching of science in an engaging way, not as a set of facts and figures, but in a hands-on, interactive approach.”

Stan applied this approach wherever he worked, whether it was teaching high school biology, developing programs for children at the Yosemite Institute, or creating educational opportunities at the nonprofit Ocean Institute in Dana Point, California, which he lead from 1980 to 2000.

Stan’s formidable fundraising skills also became apparent at the Ocean Institute. In addition to leading a $16.8 million capital campaign, he also raised funds to purchase the Pilgrim, a full-size, 130-foot tall ship and transform it into a floating classroom. Fourth- and fifth-graders immersed themselves in learning about sailing and the state’s maritime history while on board — just the kind of hands-on experience he believed was the best way to engage and excite students.

He also was excited by how new technology could be used in education. In 1993, decades before “distance learning” became a method of teaching, the Ocean Institute created a pilot for a sealife program that could be shown in classrooms, and participated in the Jason Project, a science education television show for young people that telecast from the ocean floor.

Impressed with what Stan had accomplished at the Ocean Institute, the Northwest Maritime Center hired him in 2007 as its executive director to oversee the construction of its campus on Water Street and re-boot its stalled $12.8 million capital campaign — a goal it reached a little over two years later, in March 2009, under his leadership.

Sigrid said that Stan excelled at fundraising because he saw it as a means to an end: “‘If I raise more money, I can do more programs.’”

“That was his driving force, how do we have a positive impact on students, which is my driving force in continuing his legacy,” she said. “It’s how I make sense of what happened to him.”

Stan also left behind a legacy with his grandchildren: Johnson’s sons, Finley, 5, and Tobyn, 8, and Moede’s daughter Hazel, 7, and son Oscar, 4.

During a visit with Tarla’s family the year before he died, Stan took Hazel and Oscar each out for a day of adventure — and learning.

“He bought my daughter fish and set up a little aquarium,” Tarla said. “They caught a crayfish and he taught her about the animals.

“He got my son a meal worm tank and we love it. We’ve kept it going for two years and at any point in time we have some beetles.”

Not even the COVID lockdown could deter him from introducing Tobyn, then 6, to chess by playing the game with him online.

The year since Stan’s death has been difficult the family, Sigrid said.

“If Stan had lived, he would have gone off into obscurity,” Sigrid said. “But because of the nature of what happened, we have an opportunity to impact more kids’ lives in a meaningful way so that his legacy continues.”

The Stan Cummings Classroom is a part of that legacy. Gifts made in Stan’s name that began arriving at the Northwest Maritime Center soon after his death have gone toward purchasing audiovisual equipment that is already being used for distance learning — a teaching method Stan would have appreciated after his experience working with the Jason Project 25 years ago, Sigrid said.

It furthers his mission of encouraging a love of learning through discovery, exploration and curiosity that Sigrid said was essential to who he was as a person and a teacher.

“When I was snorkeling that day, I knew that life with Stan would be an adventure,” Sigrid says. “And it was.”

________

Reporter Paula Hunt can be reached at [email protected]

BREAKOUT

For information and to make a gift in memory of Stan Cummings that supports the Northwest Maritime Center’s youth programs go to https://tinyurl.com/3cnrzk7x.

The Ocean Institute established the Stan Cummings Scholarship Internship Fund to support its Marine Science Careers and Internship Academy. For information, and to donate, go to https://tinyurl.com/6ja9c6sn.

Stan and Sigrid Cummings are pictured at the grand opening of the Northwest Maritime Center in May 2009. (Dianne Roberts)

Stan and Sigrid Cummings are pictured at the grand opening of the Northwest Maritime Center in May 2009. (Dianne Roberts)

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