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Popular teacher dies on the trail

Chana High instructor loved kids, the outdoors
By: Gus Thomson Journal Staff Writer
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Students placed wooden crosses and a sign filled with heartfelt sentiments Wednesday beside a trail near Auburn to remember high school teacher Mike Weaver. An influential Chana High School educator who switched gears in the summer months to guide rafters on the South Fork of the American River, Weaver collapsed and died Monday while riding his mountain bike on the Stagecoach Trail. He was 47. A positive influence on some of the Auburn-area’s most challenging students, Mike Weaver was being remembered Wednesday as a man who hadn’t let either pancreatic cancer or diabetes beat him, cheered up his classroom with colorful vintage pennants, and strove to make a difference in young lives. Wednesday morning, a group of a dozen students and adults from Chana High hiked about a half-mile up Stagecoach Trail to a spot where Weaver would regularly stop to let his rescued greyhound and constant biking companion Campy drink from a waterfall. The group left behind two hand-painted wooden crosses, a sign with sentiments of their respect and love for their teacher, and a single red rose. It was a rough day for students trying to fathom the loss of a beloved teacher. “He helped me out a lot,” Tyler Van Hardenberg said. “He was there for everybody. If one student couldn’t understand a math problem, he would stay there until he understood.” Vanessa Delgado, 17, helped put together a sign filled with messages and hearts. “He didn’t seem like he was a teacher – he was more of a friend,” Delgado said. “He was always there when we needed him.” Weaver had taught at the continuation school the past five years after 13 years with Sierra Vista, a Placer County Office of Education school for special-needs students. In a 2007 interview with the Journal, Weaver said the best part of his job was the students. “They’re square pegs and they’re fun to work with,” Weaver said. “It probably has as much to do with me being a square peg as they are.” Chana High graduate Anthony Cantrell, 20, accompanied the group and said he was having a hard time holding back the tears. “I owe a lot to him,” Cantrell said. “If it wasn’t for him I wouldn’t have graduated.” Cantrell said he had invited Weaver to his May wedding. “I wish he could have been able to be there,” Cantrell said. “Now he’s in heaven, rafting and biking.” Parks Ranger Jenny Gardeneyer said Weaver was found alone at about 5 p.m. Monday straddling his bike on the trail, about a mile from the Russell Road trailhead. The Stagecoach Trail runs 1.8 miles into the canyon – between Auburn and the confluence area. Weaver was unconscious, not breathing and had no pulse at that point, Gardeneyer said. CPR was initiated by bystanders and a California Highway Patrol helicopter was able to land on the trail to take him to Sutter Roseville Medical Center. Gardeneyer said there were no signs of trauma from a fall and Weaver was pronounced dead at the hospital. It was unclear how long he had been lying on the trail, she said. Weaver is survived by his wife, Julie Melbourne-Weaver, a Chana teacher, and sons Preston, a Placer High School senior, and Lee, an E.V. Cain eighth-grader. Melbourne-Weaver said her husband was one of the rare survivors of pancreatic cancer. He had been diagnosed more than four years ago. He was also a diabetic but didn’t keep his condition from preventing him from activities like rafting and biking, she said. Melbourne-Weaver said there has been no official cause of death. Weaver spent a night in the hospital late last month with physical problems that remained undiagnosed. But on the day he died, his cardiologist had said everything was fine, his wife said. Normally he would have taken Campy with him on his bike ride that day but the dog had just gone for a walk so he rode out alone. “He wanted to be young when people told him he couldn’t be,” Melbourne-Weaver said. Summers since 2000 were spent on the South Fork American River as a trusted guide who others looked up to, said Donna Hunter, of Mariah Wilderness Expeditions whitewater rafting business in Lotus. Weaver set up his tent and chairs and other guides would gather in the evenings. “He was a safe harbor – he had a kind word for everybody,” Hunter said. Weaver went on the water with his insulin pump and an attitude that was an inspiration to many young diabetics on their first rafting trips, she said. “They could see how Mike was handling his condition,” Hunter said. Born in Sacramento on Oct. 5, 1961, Michael Weaver was remembered by students Wednesday, will be mourned in a river ceremony by rafting guides, and will be remembered again at a memorial service in about a month in Auburn. Arrangements were still being finalized Wednesday. “He touched many lives in so many different ways,” Melbourne-Weaver said. The Journal’s Gus Thomson can be reached at gust@goldcountrymedia.com.