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‘First Mike’ reads to Grove Elementary students

The students and teachers of three classes at Grove Elementary School pose with Washington’s “Fire Gentleman,” Mike Gregoire, during his Dec. 10 visit. - KIRK BOXLEITNER The Marysville Globe
The students and teachers of three classes at Grove Elementary School pose with Washington’s “Fire Gentleman,” Mike Gregoire, during his Dec. 10 visit.
— image credit: KIRK BOXLEITNER The Marysville Globe

MARYSVILLE — Washington’s “Fire Gentleman,” Mike Gregoire, returned with relish to a familiar role Dec. 10, as he visited Grove Elementary School to read one of his favorite books to its students.

The husband of recently re-elected state Gov. Christine Gregoire estimated that he’s made as many as 108 such school visits since his wife was first elected, and the 63-year-old father grinned as he took questions and told stories to three classraooms of students at Grove Elementary.

Gregoire began by presenting the school with a copy of “E Is For Evergreen,” an alphabet book made up of many of Washington state’s more distinctive features, and he asked both the students and his own staff to name things in Washington that could correspond to certain letters. For “J,” the book listed “Justices,” explaining that former U.S. Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas grew up in Yakima.

The elementary school students gasped when Gregoire recalled meeting “Christine Lee O’Grady” in 1971 — “That’s a hundred years ago!” exclaimed one student, whose math was slightly off — and they were receptive to his message about the importance of reading on a daily basis.

Gregoire made this lesson entertaining by reading “The True Story of the Three Little Pigs,” a retelling of the classic children’s tale, this time told from the perspective of the Big Bad Wolf.

“The Wolf couldn’t be here today, but since he and I are close friends, he asked me to read this story for him,” Gregoire said, before he launched into an animated reading that involved the audience. When the Wolf accused the press of sensationalizing his story, to make him look bad, Gregoire grinned and turned to the newspaper reporters in the room, asking with a wink, “Is that what you do? Do you jazz things up a bit for your readers?”

“Other newspapers do,” one reporter laughed. “We don’t.”

When the Wolf described his arrest, Gregoire pointed out Darryl Noyes, a Washington State Patrol trooper in the back of the room, and encouraged the students to think about how police, firefighters and military members protect them, both in America and overseas.

After his reading, Gregoire likewise urged the students to thank their teachers and other school staff for their education, and asked the students to give reasons why they choose to read books.

“I spend at least a couple of hours every day reading,” Gregoire said. “I sense that you’re good readers. I bet you spend at least 20 minutes a day reading. And why do you do that?”

Answers ranged from “Because it’s fun” to “It helps me learn words and get smarter,” all of which Gregoire complimented as good answers. When Gregoire invited students to ask him questions, he had a hard time naming one favorite book, since he has so many favorites, but he was able to narrow his favorite subject down to “history.”

“It’s like your town of Marysville,” Gregoire said. “Each town has a history of how it started out and of who immigrated there. When I travel across this state, I hear so many great stories about the histories of these towns.”

Gregoire also appreciates the 100-year history of the Washington State Governor’s Mansion in Olympia, even though living there requires certain concessions from the governor’s family.

“We only live on one floor,” Gregoire said. “The other floor is more of a museum.”

After answering several questions from the students about the First Dog, Trooper, and admitting that the worst thing he ever tasted was “something I’d cooked myself,” one of the last questions placed Gregoire on the spot.

“Do you believe in Santa Claus?” one student asked.

“Well, I’ll tell you what,” Gregoire said, “when we lit up the holiday tree this year, I saw him there in the crowd. Santa’s been a big part of my life.”

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