Pamela Kershaw Cole is one of those rare people who always seem to be in a good mood. Every encounter I have with her leaves me smiling.
One of the reasons for her infectious mood is her husband, Chet. “He first asked me (to marry him) when I was only 44,” says Cole with a laugh, “but I thought I was too young!”
Now, after six years together—almost five married—they have matching tattoos, his on his arm, and hers on her back, commemorating their wedding date: 12/12/12.
Cole was born in San Francisco in the “Summer of Love,” 1967. After some moves, she began eighth-grade in the Coachella Valley, graduated from Palm Springs High School, and currently lives in Cathedral City. Cole graduated from the University of Nevada, Reno, with a degree in education; received her master’s degree in education administration from Azusa Pacific University; and earned her doctorate in organizational leadership from the University of La Verne.
“I started teaching in 1996 in Cathedral City with third-grade students,” says Cole. “Now I specialize in non-English-speaking students, focusing on language development. Over the years, I’ve taught almost every grade, from kindergarten to eighth-grade.
“This year, I have sixth- through eighth-graders. Most of my students are total newcomers to English. I speak a little Spanish, which helps, but recently, I had a student from the Philippines who spoke neither English nor Spanish. I even have one student this year who has never been in a school classroom before.
“I get a really diverse group each year—kids who are super-smart academically, but who have little experience in a classroom. They’re eager, and they often show a different kind of respect, having come from families that have worked so hard to get here. Research says that it takes five to seven years in a new country to become fluent in the language. It’s exceptionally challenging … and so rewarding.”
Cole is the eldest in her family; a brother, John Kershaw, lives in Yucca Valley. Her mom died at 50 after a difficult fight with cancer. Her dad then lived in Reno—which helped lead her to do her undergrad work there.
“My mom gave me some really good advice,” says Cole. “Work hard, play hard. I’ve tried to live up to that. My grandfather was a colonel in the Marine Corps, so I learned about integrity from him, but I learned about character from my mom. She was an amazing woman who always had a good sense of the need for balance in life. Caretaking is very hard, but it was a real time of growth for me.”
I met Cole through local theater: We both participated in a staged reading with Script to Stage to Screen, a local company that does staged readings of brand-new plays. I was blown away by her natural ease onstage—especially compared to what I felt were my own awkward and unrealistic efforts.
“Chet, although he does teach sixth-grade, is really the actor in the family,” Cole laughs. “He studied acting. He says I’m interesting as an actor, but I don’t know what I’m doing.”
Trust me, you’d never know it!
“I started with S2S2S in 2012,” says Cole, “and it’s my only acting ever. I’ve never taken classes or workshops, but I must admit I love it. The truth is, I told myself about a month before I met Chet that I wanted to meet a man with a kid and find time to do community theater. (Chet has a 9-year-old daughter from a previous marriage.) I have to admit that the worst part for me is the applause: Although I may be gregarious, I don’t really like being the center of attention. What I most enjoy is the character development—the intuitive ability to develop ways to make a character come to life, to take a two-dimensional person and make them real.”
Cole has proven her ability to do that: She recently received a Desert Stars Award from the Desert Theatre League for Outstanding Supporting Female Performer in a Staged Reading, for her role in The Exit Strategy Club.
Cole’s connection to theater helped lead her to establish a theater for students: “I’m writing short versions of classic stories and directing, doing costumes and sets,” she says. And lest you think Cole has any free time, she also coaches new teachers for Riverside County, and teaches for Walden University online.
Cole has traveled some—to Europe a couple of times, to Puerto Rico, and around the U.S. “We got to visit Kershaw County in South Carolina. I found some ‘kinfolk,’” she laughs. “But if I have a bucket list, I’d either be in Florence, Italy, or at Lake Tahoe. My dad had a boat, and we spent some really good time together there. As hard as it was when my mom died, I think losing my dad was harder to handle. When your second parent dies, it feels like, ‘There goes my anchor.’”
Cole’s advice to local students: “Whatever you want to do, be fearless. My mom raised me with no money, but she always said to try everything and to put myself out there.
“Don’t have regrets. Try things. Life is short, and we only get to do it one time.”
Pam Cole is making the most of her one time.
Anita Rufus is also known as “The Lovable Liberal,” and her radio show airs Sundays at noon on KNews Radio 94.3 FM. Email her at Anita@LovableLiberal.com. Know Your Neighbors appears every other Wednesday.