Redefining Retirement – Don Fontana – Staying Active in Retirement

Redefining Retirement
Don Fontana Fire Service

Reflecting on his career spanning over 40 years as a teacher and administrator at Mather High School, and later his involvement with the Roberts Park Fire Protection District (RPFPD), retirement wasn't about slowing down for Don Fontana; it was about finding new ways to stay engaged and contribute meaningfully to his community and family. 

Don’s career started in 1961 when he began teaching Physical Education and Health at Mather. He was also the assistant coach and defensive coordinator of Mather’s first football team, speaking proudly about helping lead the team to victory in their first ever game.  

Don’s role evolved into an administrative position, overseeing security and supporting teachers while also educating them on classroom safety. In 1974, when the Heimlich Maneuver was invented, Don ensured that all Mather faculty and staff were certified. His passion for safety extended beyond the classroom when he became a certified Driver's Education Instructor and later joined RPFPD. Within this role, Don identified additional measures to enhance safety at Mather, such as reevaluating the school's approach to fire drills to account for a broader range of scenarios that could happen during a fire.  

Retiring in 2003 gave Don a chance to shift his priorities. “Retirees must stay active,” Don says. Staying active for Don means spending time with his family. He has watched his five grandchildren grow up, participate in sports and other activities, graduate from high school and college, and much more. His son and grandson even followed in his footsteps and became involved with the fire service.  

Another way Don stays active is traveling. Aside from traveling around the United States, he has stopped in multiple countries on a Mediterranean Cruise, had a meaningful experience at the Beaches of Normandy, and visited the Panama Canal twice.  

One priority that has not changed for Don is safety. Even 50 years later, he is still involved with RPFPD, serving on the Board and working as the Photo Investigator. “When I started at Mather, I knew teachers were very dedicated,” says Don. “However, the people of the fire department are dedicated in a different way. When the fire bell rings, they must get into the right frame of mind to potentially save someone’s life.”  

Don emphasizes the value of being prepared for retirement. “It is so important for retirees to know how to make the transition from being a teacher, to being their own teacher in retirement,” he says. Don believes retirees must stay engaged and creative, both mentally and physically. He recalled a saying that he feels should resonate with retirees and encourage them to remain active, "Life is like a roll of toilet paper; it seems to go faster near the end."