First published in the Oct. 29 print issue of the Glendale News-Press.
He was known for his love of students, his enthusiasm for basketball, his affinity for the necktie and his perpetually messy desk.
Luckily, all agreed that the Wilson Middle School gymnasium was the right place to attach Richard Lucas’ name. More than two years after the school board approved the move — a delay largely blamed on the COVID-19 pandemic — that facility is now officially the Richard J. Lucas Gymnasium, so named for the school’s beloved former principal.
“He was not only a school principal, but a father to our students who so needed his kindness and his love,” current Principal Narek Kassabian said during the dedication ceremony on Monday. “While I was never fortunate enough to have worked with Mr. Lucas, I know and feel the impact of his work here as a principal. It is clear his legacy and leadership live on at Wilson. Every time a basketball game is played, every time our student athletes wear a tie on gamedays, Mr. Lucas is here.”
Lucas joined Wilson Middle School as an assistant principal in 1988 and was named principal in 1997, holding the role through his retirement in 2014. He died in 2019.
During his time at the school, Lucas, who came to Glendale Unified via Lynwood Unified, earned a reputation for knowing all of his students by name and for being affable enough for those students to eagerly crowd around him to chat during lunch. He, too, knew all of his staff members well enough to regularly and thoughtfully inquire about their lives. Many of those educators proudly raised their hand Monday when Kris Kohlmeier, a teacher specialist for GUSD who was long a friend to Lucas, asked how many were hired by him.
One of those hands belonged to Heather Lapacka, who taught English at Wilson for 20 years after Lucas rolled the dice on her as a long-term substitute. She recollected on Monday that GUSD had at one point offered her what she considered a dream job at another middle school, yet she nevertheless wished to remain at Wilson, under Lucas’ mentorship. She got her wish.
“For a while, we had this open, revolving door of assistant principals because the district would send people because they wanted Rich to be their mentor, and so we had a lot of amazing people come through,” Lapacka added. “It was because he knew how to really connect. More than anything, he connected with kids.”
Lucas also had a well-documented love of basketball — hence the selection of the gym. Chris Coulter, the district’s director of teaching and learning who initially succeeded Lucas as Wilson’s principal, wryly recalled hearing that a tie between which teacher to hire might come down to what the candidate could do on the court.
Coulter also acknowledged that whatever Lucas’ reputation was as being dedicated to his school, he remained just as involved with his family.
“He was one of the few who could find that work-life balance that we all strive for,” Coulter said.
One of Lucas’ daughters, Ashley Lucas, backed up that statement on Monday.
“This was dad’s home, his home away from home. Hearing your stories about him today has been amazing,” she said. “As amazing as he was here, he was that to us at home. He was such a great dad. He was so present. He was always there, somehow being a 100% dad to all three of us.”