If you were a kid in San Luis Obispo between the late ’60s and early 2000s, you likely had—and fondly remember—Mr. Rosewall as your junior high/middle school shop teacher. Walking around SLO these days, Hal Rosewall says he inevitably runs into his former students. “I’ll hear, ‘Hey, Mr. Rosewall! How’s it goin’?’ I’m surprised they still recognize me,” he laughs, “Sometimes I don’t recognize them!” While Hal, retired since 2003 from Laguna Middle School, now sports a dapper whitish beard and hair (but smile-wise and otherwise hasn’t changed much), his Gen X, Gen Y and Millennial kids have grown up—sometimes requiring a double take on his part.
Happily, Hal’s relationships with some of his students go beyond spontaneous meetings and quick street corner reunions. “I have longtime friendships with some of those I was privileged to have in my classroom—as adults, they’ve started businesses and families. They’ll say, ‘I learned a lot from you; you were a great teacher.’ It’s so rewarding for me.”
“I came to Cal Poly in 1964 not having a clue what I wanted to do,” Hal shared. Sometime during my junior year in high school when
I was thinking about it, the only thing I knew for sure was that I wanted to be a role model and mentor for kids—just like the teachers and counselors that I had and admired. He pointed out that this desire was so strong that after graduation from college, he was offered a full-time position to teach at the university level but turned it down. “I wanted to work with kids in junior high or high school and provide the guidance and support that would help them like it helped me at that age,” he said.
Encouraged by a vocational counselor, Hal decided to pursue a B.S. Degree in Industrial Technology, which turned out to be a blessing. It’s a wonderful thing to work with your hands,” he said. “I already had some experience from helping my dad on projects and taking classes in high school; I also had a natural talent for it.” Hal said he found the pursuit rewarding, creative and fulfilling. “I enjoyed the practical and creative aspects industrial arts offer.”
Combining his desires to work with young people and deploy his skills at the workbench, he began his career at SLO Junior High (and later Laguna Middle School) teaching shop and also coaching basketball, that sport being another interest he had cultivated during high school and at Cal Poly on an intramural team. From the start, Hal said, “Teaching was everything I thought it would be, although I couldn’t tell for a couple years how effective I was. My personal philosophy from the start was ‘Come in early, stay late, let the kids know I am honest and genuine—cuz if you’re not, they know.’” But, he added, “I found out that no matter how good your intentions are, junior high discipline is one of the toughest undertakings, that took me a couple years to grasp.” Hal’s approach was to choose interesting projects and employ interesting teaching techniques. His students made cutting boards, lathe-turned projects like tool boxes and clocks—there are probably more than a few parents in town who still have their kids’ projects around the house. And, as a source of great pride to the young craft persons, their handmade clocks were, for many years, annually showcased in the window of CCS (Central Coast Surfboards) in downtown SLO (then on Higuera Street) for all the world to see.
It was also important to Hal that the parents appreciated his efforts. “I received many excellent comments from parents; it made me feel like I had a more impactful relationship with their children.” It was obvious on campus too: Mr. Rosewall’s class was one kids ran to—literally. “They knew I valued them and supported them,” he said. “Classwork was more than manufacturing; I tried to show them what out there for them, what they could achieve.”
Hal and his brother Lee moved with their parents Donald and Marjorie to San Dimas, CA from Michigan when Hal was three years old. “My dad had a war injury and needed the warmer weather,” he explained. “Our family pitched an army tent and we lived in it while we built our home. Early on, I learned many skills from my dad like removing nails from old boards and how to be a God-fearing, honest, loving human being. My mom was very loving—all my girlfriends adored my mom!” After moving to Fallbrook at age 16, Hal underwent a metamorphosis of sorts and discovered he was actually very outgoing and gregarious whereas before he had been rather quiet and reserved. In his junior year of high school, he was elected student body president “by six votes!” and went on to letter in five varsity sports making All-League.
In college, Hal was one of 31 young men who started Phi Kappa Psi fraternity that is still active today. “We were interested in the social and scholastic aspects of higher education and also participated in athletics and philanthropic activities. Of those original founders, Hal said 15 fraternity brothers still live in the county and meet once a month for dinner. “We’re proud of the accomplishments of our fraternity and other fraternities and sororities who contribute to the community,” he said noting that last year, those clubs’ efforts raised $275,000 for local community organizations.
During his senior year at Cal Poly, Hal jump-started his career at the junior high. Once he graduated and became a full-time teacher, he spent his summers as a house painter, a profession he still enjoys and that provided a necessary supplement to his teaching income. He also obtained his Master’s Degree in Education while teaching full time. Hal went on to teach for a combined 36 years and at one point, even had his own kids Jake and Alaina in his classes!
But retired doesn’t mean tired—Hal is busier than ever enjoying life and still working. A property owner, he manages and maintains his own apartment complexes providing electrical, plumbing, roofing and painting services. His hobby is building Victorian birdhouses. For fun, Hal is active in SLO Skiers and besides joining the group on ski trips all around the western states (Bend OR, Whistler, Telluride, Mammoth, Vail, Steamboat Springs, among others) he also participates in the club’s charitable fundraising efforts as an auctioneer.
Hal shares that he learned to ski at age 50 recalling the experience, “The first time was very painful. I could hardly walk afterward. But I was hooked!” Speaking of hooked, Hal is also an avid fisherman and travels with buddies annually to Eagle Lake to trout fish and fishes locally as well. He and his wife Sharon, whom he married in 2010, love to travel and most recently enjoyed Cancun and the Virgin Islands. They also visit and spend time with their blended families near and far: Jake, wife Carrie and their children Quinlin and Carly, Alaina and her husband Derek, Laura, her boyfriend Al and son Jeremy, Andrea, husband Mike and their daughter Madison. “We’re very busy,” laughs Hal, pointing out the obvious.
And, just for the Hal-of-it, some favorite things:
Hawaiian shirts: “They fit my personality, I like bright colors. I have about 40 of them.”
Jokes: “The one about the Chinese take-out food with eyes looking out of the bag? Peeking Duck.”
Wine and Music: Winery events, wine tasting and Café Musique is a favorite local group.
All this fun notwithstanding, Hal admits, “I’ll always miss teaching. If you do a good job, it has many rewards.” Amen, Mr. Rosewall.