Former Denair Unified School Board Trustee John Plett is being remembered as a big man with an even bigger heart who had a deep love for his family and strong affection for the Denair community, especially its schools. Mr. Plett died Sunday. He was 70.
Mr. Plett was elected to the school board in 2011 after a career in law enforcement. He was re-elected in 2015 and served until August 2019, when health concerns forced him to resign.
Mr. Plett was a tall, strong man with an affable nature and a quick smile. He and his wife, Kathy, lived in Denair for nearly 40 years. He was known for the pride he felt for the greater community as well as the students and staff on Denair’s four campuses.
Superintendent Terry Metzger said Mr. Plett’s loyalty and dedication to the community were evident right from the start.
“When I met him, I immediately recognized him as a champion for the district,” she said. “John attended events at every school throughout each year. It gave him great joy. Our conversations were always about how to make the district better for kids and the community. He had incredible respect for teachers and staff.”
Mr. Plett joined the school board at a difficult time for the district, which was on the brink of insolvency. In his resignation letter, he recalled his first board meeting, when hundreds of people packed the old gym to voice their concern about the district’s perilous financial condition.
“The budget was so bad, the attitude and reputation so poor, the morale was so down, it was something to sit in my first board meeting with … people shouting and cursing us,” he wrote. “The morale has stepped up and up and up. I’m going to be forever prideful to have been part of that; to come from so low to where we are.”
In his letter, he acknowledged the financial impact of budget cuts to the district’s employees, writing, “I will always remember the sacrifices of the Denair faculty and staff and I am proud we achieved full (salary) restoration, with more success on the horizon.”
Former Trustee Carolyn Brown served on the school board with Mr. Plett for four years. They lived about a block apart and their children attended Denair schools together.
“He was a listener,” Brown said. “He was very calm and always had the kids at heart. He had a gentle, caring spirit. He was just a very personable guy.”
Former Denair Superintendent Aaron Rosander described Mr. Plett as “a good man in every respect.”
“He was a wonderful family man and gave tirelessly of himself to the youth and schools of Denair,” Rosander said. “It was my honor to have worked with him and I was fortunate to call him my friend.”
Current Trustee Ray Prock Jr., who joined the board in 2015, credited Mr. Plett for “reducing the learning curve I had as a new board member.”
“His knowledge of Denair history was nothing short of amazing,” Prock said. “If I ever needed to know why or how something was done, he could answer almost immediately. John was truly a gentle giant whose love for Denair and even greater love for his family was what I will always remember him for. His priority was always the students, staff, schools and community.”
Mr. Plett worked at the CSU Stanislaus Police Department from 1989 until 2007 and was named Officer of the Year three times. He retired as a sergeant.
Mr. Plett is survived by his wife, Kathy; his daughters, Kara Plett Binkley, Cassie Plett, Lindsey Plett and Ashley Plett Hall; and six grandchildren.
Turlock Memorial Park & Funeral Home is in charge of funeral arrangements. A viewing will be held at the funeral home Monday from 3-7 p.m. A memorial service is planned for Tuesday at noon at
Gateway Community Church in Denair. Anyone attending is asked to respect social distancing and please wear a mask. The family is creating a memorial Facebook page so friends can honor Mr. Plett. Those unable to attend the service can view it via Facebook Live on that page.