Gail McCredie, mother of alumni Jack (’10) and Renata (’15), volunteered at Mount Madonna School for years prior to joining the staff as the librarian 16 years ago. She is retiring in August. Drawing from family stories, shared experiences and recent conversations with Gail, Renata wrote this heartfelt portrait.
“We’re gonna be late,” I say.
“Oh hold your horses, we’ll be fine,” Gail replies.
We get into the Chevy and begin the winding drive up old Mount Madonna Road like we’ve done for so many years. As the morning fog levels and the redwood trees start to blur out the window, I ask my mother what brings her up the mountain every day. “Well,” She begins, “Gene and I had a vision of what education could and should be. We thought that children, especially very active ones,” she says, casting a look in my direction and I know she’s talking about my brother, Jack, who still can’t sit still at 28, “should be in an environment that fosters learning and exploration through all different avenues, not just in the classroom. Mount Madonna has always done that and it’s worth coming up the mountain for.”
Gail’s values of independence, hard work, respect for nature, optimism, and passionate learning are what brought her to Mount Madonna in the first place. “My sense of humor is what keeps me motivated. I definitely got my sense of humor from my dad. He was always laughing and had an unparalleled optimism about people and life.”
In 1996 Gail and her husband, Gene, began their search for a new school that would suit their son Jack and eventually their daughter. During Jack’s interview in Sarojani Rohan’s classroom she recognized that he was intrigued by the science experiment the other children were doing. Instead of scolding him for lack of focus, she let him join the other kids and explore that curious side of himself. Gail smiles at this memory and says, “After meeting Sarojani, Sampad Kachuck, and [the late] Sri Gyan McCaughan, we knew this was the place for our children.” And I suspect we’re not the only family with a story like this one.
More than anything in the classroom, Gail appreciates the learning that comes from being active and immersed in nature. As a kid her dad called her “Jumping GG” and her mom called her “The Climbing Nitwit” for her propensity to climb anything vertical and subsequently jump off without fear. She even met her husband in a rock climbing class and they married on Leap Day in 1988. As a horse lover, lifetime adventure seeker, and Feldenkrais practitioner for 40 years and counting, Gail sees her own values in the Mount Madonna mission. She loves seeing that mission come to life in the caring, productive, and fun-loving adults that Mount Madonna creates. “I think my favorite thing about working at Mount Madonna and knowing so many students is watching them go out into the world and become adults. There are several students who have maintained contact with me after their graduation and the delight I feel each time I hear from them is immense. I recently had a conversation about presidential candidates with a high school student. He was so passionate, educated, and focused on his choice. All I could think of was, ‘Where did that little fifth grade boy go?’ He’s going to amaze us!”
Gail volunteered at the school for years and began working in an official capacity as librarian at the upper campus 16 years ago. After self-funding her bachelor’s in theater arts (with a concentration in children’s theater and always with the intention of becoming a children’s librarian), and with 23 years of library experience at the University of California, Santa Barbara, Gail’s new job felt like coming home. Gail found her love for reading, environmentalism and animals early in life. Her fourth-grade teacher, Mrs. Beaucaire at John L. Webster School in Malibu, where Gail spend most of her childhood, showed her just how important teachers are in a child’s life. “She was strict, organized, an avid environmentalist, and a passionate animal lover. She was the first one to introduce me to ‘Island of the Blue Dolphins’,” a book about being a strong woman, an environmentalist, and an animal lover – all things Gail embodies and has shared with me through the years.
Our little car continues the climb up the mountain, and we break through the trees. Gail continues to reflect on what brings her up the mountain every day, “It certainly isn’t the drive,” she says with a chuckle, “I love watching students grow and change. Each year my most prolific readers are in third grade. They’ve learned how to read and have discovered the world beyond themselves. Books supply that window into the unknown and it delights me to see students’ tastes change and evolve.”
During retirement, Gail plans to get through her ever-growing book list and spend more time with her two horses. “My interest in horses lies not in competition, but in nature, trail riding, camping, and the friendship of like-minded riders. I have four close horseback riding friends who are retiring this year. I’m sure we’ll figure out how to spend our time laughing, riding, and inhaling fresh outdoor air.”
As we turn onto Summit Road, there is a rare moment of silence on our drive. Finally, she says “Be a lifelong learner. Always take classes to improve yourself. There are other worlds inside a book. Keep reading to expose yourself to new ideas, experiences and cultures.” This is what Gail is about. She is persistent. She speaks her mind and she’s nothing if not a bit theatrical. She is a storyteller through books and spoken words. She is inherently unhurried which is frustrating and enviable at the same time. Just as she takes her time in the mornings, she takes the time to listen to, challenge, and joke with students.
We finally roll through the gate and park our car. The sound of the engine turning off shakes me from our conversation and I look at the time. We’re late and I’m tempted to scurry off to start my classes, but I stroll with my mother into the library on the mountain and don’t mention it this time.
Contact: Leigh Ann Clifton, director of marketing & communications, [email protected]
Nestled among the redwoods on 375 acres, Mount Madonna School (MMS) is a community of learners dedicated to creative, intellectual, and ethical growth. MMS supports its students in becoming caring, self-aware, discerning and articulate individuals; and believe a fulfilling life includes personal accomplishments, meaningful relationships and service to society. The CAIS and WASC accredited program emphasizes academic excellence, creative self-expression and positive character development. Located on Summit Road between Gilroy and Watsonville. Founded in 1979.