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Teacher's Will Holds Toughest Assignment : Bequest a Test for Former Students

February 15, 1987|LEE HARRIS | Times Staff Writer

CERRITOS — It is an unusual problem for a group of junior high school students: How should they spend the $673 that a former homeroom teacher left each of them in his will.

David Martinez, 12, expects to meet with his older brother's stockbroker soon to discuss how he might invest some of the windfall.

"I might take some of it and buy baseball cards, then resell them," Martinez said. "I invest in them. I've made about $200."

A schoolmate, Kristina Chavez, also 12, said she is "going to the mall. I'm going shopping for some clothes" with a portion of the money.

Martinez and Chavez are two of 33 students who had the good fortune to know and love and be loved by Monte Duckworth. They knew him affectionately as "Mr. D."

Duckworth, who devoted his life to "my kids," was their teacher at Cerritos Elementary School in the ABC Unified School District in 1985. He died of a heart attack at his home in Lakewood in May, 1985, at the age of 53.

A bachelor, he left a will that said exactly how the $42,000 from his teacher retirement fund was to be divided. Half was to be given to the Artesia-Cerritos Lions Club for its annual elementary school track meet. The other half, said Gilbert Honeycutt, a longtime friend and executor of the will, was to be divided equally among the students who were in his fifth-grade homeroom the year he died.

The will also specifically stated that the money was to go to the students and not their parents. "The parents were to act as advisers only," said Marsha Honeycutt, Gilbert's wife.

No one who knew Duckworth, who taught in the ABC school district for 21 years, was surprised by what he did.

Duckworth's life, they say, was kids. The personalized license plate on his car read simply: KIDS.

"He spent his money on supplies, books, audio-visual aids and other things for kids." said Donald Duckworth, a younger brother who lives in Stockton. "I hope the money helps some of them that need it."

Stephanie Swailes, 13, one of the beneficiaries of the will, remembers: "He had a key chain that said KIDS. He lived for kids."

Swailes carries a picture of Mr. D in her wallet. "I won it in some kind of contest he had. I don't remember what. He was always having us play games and then giving us awards," said Swailes, who now attends Carmenita Junior High School in the ABC Unified School District, as do most of the youngsters from that 1985 homeroom.

Swailes and some other former Duckworth students at Carmenita were reminiscing last week over what a generous man Duckworth was. The students said Duckworth would buy them ice cream at the local drugstore. He gave them birthday cards on their birthdays.

Students Had Nicknames

"He gave all of the kids nicknames," said Eddie Lewis, 12, who was known as "Fast Eddie" because he ran in track meets. "And he would come to your house to talk with your parents."

He went to the Honeycutts' home. He had given Marsha Honeycutt's daughter Latisha, a senior at Gahr High School who was in his class a few years before he died, an assignment to cook dinner at home and to invite a friend.

"We decided to invite him and he became a part of our family," Marsha Honeycutt said.

"He made kids want to learn. He spent extra time with them. He was interested in kids, especially underprivileged kids. He was always taking them food baskets."

After Duckworth's death, Gilbert Honeycutt said he spent months trying to find the 33 students who were in Duckworth's class when he died.

One Not Located

All were found except one, who is believed to be somewhere in Argentina, Honeycutt said. His money was put in a bank until he can be located, Honeycutt said.

Twenty-two students attended a dinner Tuesday night given by the Artesia-Cerritos Lions Club, where they received their checks for $673. The youths said they are having fun deciding what to do with their inheritances.

"This is the most money I've ever had in my whole life," said Julie Wylie, 12, a student at Carmenita Junior High School. "I'm going to take $100 and go shopping in the Westminster Mall. I'm going to put the rest in the bank."

Gail Bosfield, 13, also a student at Carmenita Junior High, said she also will buy clothes but put most of her money in the bank for college. "I want to be a teacher," Bosfield said. "Mr. D would have liked that. No, I want to be an actress. Teachers don't make enough money.

"Mr. D would not have had any problem with that, either. He would have understood. He was that kind of teacher."

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