Obituary of Gail Santora
Gail Liane Hanford Santora was born on July 25, 1950 in one of the oldest communities in the American West, Fort Benton, Montana. She was a daughter of prolific inventor and wheat farmer, Norris Hanford, and a published poet, Dorothy Ritter Hanford. On October 21, 2018, she passed away in Tumwater, Washington. She was the second of four children with a childhood chock-full of escapades. Many of these defining experiences shaped Gail into the person who dedicated her life to improving early childhood education.
Gail graduated from Fort Benton High School in 1968, and after two years at Whitman College in Walla Walla, Washington, she transferred to Washington State University, where she graduated with a BA in Education and a Masters in Speech-Language Pathology. It was there that she met her husband of 44 years, Greg Santora. Both she and Greg shared a vision that together they could raise the quality of children’s special education programs in the state of Washington.
After marrying Greg in 1974, the couple moved to Olympia, Washington. Gail spent 30 years in the Olympia School District, serving as an Early Intervention Preschool teacher at John Rogers, a Speech-Language Pathologist, a Special Education Preschool Teacher at Garfield and McKenny Elementary schools, and eventually retired as a full-day Kindergarten teacher at McKenny in 2011. Gail was involved in the start of the PEPSI (Parent-Education Pre-School Intervention) program in the mid-1970s, and also started the first all-day kindergarten program in the Olympia School District. Perhaps of all of Gail’s educational accomplishments, her most impactful contribution to the community was Serendipity Children’s Center at Tumwater Valley. In 1985, Gail co-founded the school with Barb Carlson, and together they taught preschool and managed the business until she returned to the Olympia School District in 1991.
In retirement, Gail loved traveling to Hawaii, Japan, Europe, and continued to volunteer in the classroom and at the local food bank. She was also an avid reader, gardener, loved flowers, and she made a special connection with animals — even the untamable. Gail fondly referred to her job as “her life.” Her infinite optimism came from an authentic place that was easy to spot when you felt the warmth from her infectious smile. Even while courageously fighting leukemia, she would muster every last drop of energy in her body to uplift anyone who crossed her path. She was a guiding voice in the community, and raised a village of children by offering them a much-needed spark at the beginning of their education.
She approached each child in her classroom with an individual attention that amazed parents. She was a loved colleague, a mentor, and she shared a philosophy that all children can learn in a warm, inclusive, and developmentally appropriate environment. And from that conviction, she built and maintained relationships with many of her students and their parents over the years.
On October 21, 2018, she passed away, surrounded by loved ones who were in awe of her tireless grace, compassion, humor, and the selfless service she provided to her community, family and stranger alike. As in her classroom, she left this world singing to her children and grandchildren, and she will be deeply missed.
She is survived by her husband Greg, of Tumwater; her daughter, Melinda Santora of Portland, Oregon; her son, Trever (Nicole) Santora, and grandchildren, Theo and Duke of Seattle, Washington; her brother, Howard (Nancy) Hanford of Fort Benton, Montana; her sisters, Carol Lilly of Bozeman, Montana and Mary Ann (Terry) Otis of Berthoud, Colorado; sister-in-law, Sandi (Bill) Leishman of Tacoma, Washington; and numerous nieces, nephews and cousins. Gail was preceded in death by her parents, Norris and Dorothy Hanford.
A service celebrating Gail’s life will be held on Sunday, December 2, 2018, 12:00 p.m. at South Sound Manor, 455 North Street SE, Tumwater, WA 98501.
In memory of Gail, please share a smile and a warm greeting with a stranger, as Gail did every day. For her family, please leave a memory or condolence on this website (accessed through the button at the top right of this page).
For additional information about Gail, please visit her tribute website at www.gailsantora.com.