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Mark Galipeau, retired 2017, Cotati-Rohnert Park Unified School District

Elementary teacher sailed into retirement with a love of history, tall ships.

Retired elementary teacher Mark Galipeau took to the seas in retirement. He spends some of his time helping sail historic tall ships.

His love of sailing comes from his enjoyment of history, sharing meaningful experiences with students and teaching in an overnight tall ship program in San Francisco.

What did you teach?

In his 21 years of teaching, Galipeau taught first through fifth grade. But fourth grade is his favorite. “I fell in love with fourth grade because of history, social studies and the connection I could make to what was happening in the world around us and show how we became a state.”

Mark Galipeau is bald and wears glasses. He has a long gray mustache. There are sails and water in the background.
Retired teacher Mark Galipeau spends part of his retirement volunteering on historic tall ships. He has been a CalSTRS member since 1997. 

Fourth grade also tied into his first career. As a plasterer, Galipeau helped restore the State Capitol building in Sacramento. Later, as a teacher, he took his students there to see the legislative process and admire the building and its history.

“I remember going to the Capitol on a field trip in high school before they destroyed it and started renovating it again. I was back there as a construction worker for a year and a half to do ornamental work in the ceilings in the Senate, Assembly, the dome and hallways.”

Tell us more about your first career

Galipeau’s father was a lifelong plasterer and an immigrant to the United States from England after World War II. “After high school, I didn’t have a focus and college wasn’t working for me, so my father suggested I go into the plaster apprenticeship program.”

He worked as a plasterer for several years, vesting in his pension. But Galipeau was always looking for other opportunities and eventually went into teaching for the pension, the flexible work schedule and his love of teaching. He taught plastering in an apprenticeship program and had been a Scoutmaster for many years. “I’ve always used teaching skills.”

Why did you become a teacher?

“I decided to leave the construction industry in my 30s when I had two young children of my own. My partner at the time agreed and assisted me in getting my degree and becoming an elementary school teacher. I had a broad knowledge of subjects and wanted a career where I could be with my children as they grew up,” Galipeau said.

How did you get into ships?

At the beginning of his career, his fifth grade colleagues organized an overnight tall ship program at the Hyde Street Pier at Golden Gate National Park in San Francisco. Classes of fifth graders spent 12 to 16 hours on the ship, recreating shipboard tasks in small groups.

“The history and overnight experience were my introduction to the ships. It really colored the work I chose to do in my classroom, based on that model of collaborative learning in a problem-solving manner. I did that for several years and was a little disappointed I was moved to fourth grade,” Galipeau said.

Tall ship with sails, the Kalmar Nyckel  is at a dock.
Mark Galipeau's travels include volunteering aboard the replica Swedish tall ship Kalmar Nyckel.

He still enjoyed the focus on history in fourth grade, with a living history experience at Petaluma Adobe State History Park and Rancho de Petaluma. “The adobe was a rich experience to share Californio culture, the dominant culture prior to the gold rush. Kids would make candles, do leatherwork, spin wool and cook over a fire.”

After retirement in 2017, Galipeau still had his love of tall ships. Luckily, vessels are always looking for educators and volunteers. A few months into retirement, he signed up to sail on the 1700s replica ship Lady Washington, doing field trips in Morro Bay. From there, he looked for where the tall ship was sailing and eventually traveled the whole West Coast.

“I sailed from Ventura to Olympia, Washington, all up the coast. I get free room and board on ships, in exchange for pulling lines and taking the helm and steering and working together in a small, intentional community,” Galipeau said.

His other sailing adventures include a Pilgrim-era ship, a Viking longboat with a single sail and an East Indiaman ship in the Baltic Sea.

Favorite teacher?

Galipeau’s favorite educator was a professor in community college. “I took a California history class, and his tales were so engaging. The way he wove history together was inspirational. He was one of my biggest role models for my love of teaching.”

What are you proud of doing as a teacher?

“Being a role model as far as travel and loving life and bringing the wonders of the world into my classroom. I did steelhead in my class, where we were able to get eggs and show the kids. They were able to watch the process of fertilized eggs growing into fish. I took kids to the fish hatchery so they could watch the release of the baby fish into the ecosystem. I am proud of being able to show that full circle of learning for the kids, sharing the mysteries and wonders of life in our amazing state,” Galipeau said.

He also enjoyed making the process of the legislative season real to the kids on their field trips. “There would frequently be lobby days, and I told kids you might see people with signs and posters yelling in front of the Capitol and it’s OK. It’s part of the political process. They don’t mean harm and they’re passionate about what they’re doing, working to influence legislation.”

The students met lawmakers and lobbyists. “That was a really powerful experience.”

Galipeau thinks teachers should find what they enjoy and share that with their students. “No one is going to remember when they grew up who taught them the short vowel sounds. We have these bigger, broader lessons to teach our kids. Those are the things students will remember. I ran into two students the other day. ‘Mr. Galipeau! I remember you. We had ceramics in your class, and I still have all the ceramics I made with you.’”

One fun thing about you, besides sailing?

“I have a 1972 red Impala. Thanks to my CalSTRS pension, I can go out and do fun things like getting help to restore my car. I’ve had it for 15–20 years, and I’m the second owner.”

When he moved to Rohnert Park to teach, he walked to school. “I never had to drive in my 21 years of teaching if I didn’t want to. I can still sit in my yard and hear the bell and the voice on the loudspeaker,” Galipeau said.

He used a ride in the Impala as an incentive in his reading program and took students to lunch. “It’s always a fun thing to do to get to know kids.”

Tell us about your family

Galipeau lives with his partner. He also has two grown children, who both left California.

What was the first thing you did when you retired?

“I bought a pair of binoculars. My partner, he has a 36-foot RV, and we drove to the East Coast. I took up birding during our travels. We went to Idaho, went across Canada and drove down to Plymouth, Massachusetts.”

Galipeau also spends his time birding in his backyard and tending the 18 fruit trees he planted a couple years after he started teaching. “I’ve got more jam than you can possibly use for two or three pandemics. Nowadays I just give it away. My partner, who doesn’t sail, makes sure the neighbors get their fill of jam and fruit when I’m gone.”

Tell us more about what you’re doing in retirement?

Because Galipeau has already traveled the West Coast, he’s sailing on other ships, including crossing the Atlantic Ocean for the first time. “All the sail terms and commands are in German. I’ve only worked on ships on the West Coast and a Pilgrim ship on the East Coast. I’m learning the names of the sails in German.”

He also spent time on Lake Erie and sailed a Swedish ship for nine weeks.

Galipeau again credits his pension for his ability to travel and spend weeks and months sailing. “I couldn’t have this life I’m leading.”

Teacher Talk is a series of profiles on California teachers and other educators. To be considered for a future profile, please email, with Teacher Talk in the subject line.