CAMAS VALLEY — Don Wonsley has spent the last month in an office at Camas Valley Charter School, a luxury that was hard to imagine when he was a high school student himself.
When Wonsley was 15 years old, his adoptive parents divorced and he was left to fend for himself.
“I had a car, but I didn’t have a license,” Wonsley said. “So I parked in the school parking lot and slept in my car.”
He stayed in his car for nearly two years while he earned his high school degree. He was also a three-sport athlete competing in basketball, football and baseball.
He remembers when it got down to 10 degrees outside and he would have to turn the engine on in the car every hour to make sure he didn’t freeze to death.
“I was determined to survive,” Wonsley said. “There were people that encouraged me.”
One of those who helped Wonsley along the way was a man who would leave groceries by the backdoor of a store, knowing Wonsley would need sustenance.
“I don’t know his name, but he helped me survive,” Wonsley said. “I’ve never forgotten that.”
After graduating high school, Wonsley went to college, where he played basketball. He eventually earned his master’s degree in school administration through Grand Canyon University.
“I’d seen dysfunction and wanted better,” he said. “I learned not to be bitter but to overcome.”
He thinks his drive and experience will help him connect with students.
His experiences made Wonsley into the man who puts his family before everything. He married his wife, Joan, when he was 27, and they have four children, one grandchild and another on the way.
“I married a great woman with great character who loves community. I was blessed,” Wonsley said, adding that his wife came from a great family with a great father.
His father-in-law died last year, but even now his memory is one that brings a smile to Wonsley’s face and a tear in his eye.
Just last week he encountered an electrical issue and picked up the phone to call his father-in-law, who was an electrician by trade, only to realize that he wouldn’t be able to talk to the man who had been a father figure in his life for the past 30 years.
“He taught me what character really is,” Wonsley said.
Wonsley said he has already seen that character at Camas Valley when he took the football team out for pizza.
“It was such a polite group of young men,” he said. “Without exception, they all said, ‘Thank you.’”
Wonsley has also spent time at volleyball camp and has gotten to know the community with daily trips to the bakery and other Camas Valley stores.
He’s learned about the history of the town and the school and made a promise to former Superintendent Patrick Lee, who left the district after 25 years, that he would love the school and take care of it.
But for now, he’s just anxious to get school started.
“I can’t wait until the hallways are full,” he said. “I’m a little nervous too.”
Wonsley’s new office looks out on the hallways, so he can see and hear the students throughout the year.
“I didn’t show up here by accident,” Wonsley said. “I’m pretty sure I fit here.”