Philip John Bovberg—“John” to family and friends, and “Mr. B” to countless students and fellow educators—passed away at UCLA Medical Center on Monday, December 16. He was 65 years old, given six months of additional life thanks to the generosity of a heart donor. Everyone always said John had an enormous heart, but in fact he had two hearts!
Born in Pasadena, California, on March 6, 1948, John was the second son, after brother Briane, of the late Robert and Dorothy Bovberg. He would be followed by two younger brothers, Kevin and Craig. He was raised in Monrovia, Rancho Cordova, Westminster, and Anaheim, attending Bolsa Grande and La Quinta high schools.
Eventually John settled in Irvine, California, to raise his family. The notion of “family” was paramount to John, and he is widely considered the backbone, or even the bright central star, of his extended family. He is survived by his wife Terri, his son Jason and his daughter Melissa, and his granddaughters Harper, Sophie, and Sadie, and grandson Carson John. He is also beloved by his nieces and nephews Annette and Laura, Jenny, Aaron and Andrea, Hanna and Emma, and his daughter-in-law Barbara. They all remember him as exceedingly generous, unfailingly supportive, and always full of good cheer. His exuberant personality also attracted hundreds of friends. John’s ability to establish deep, lasting friendships was unparalleled.
After graduating from La Quinta High School in 1966, he moved on to Golden West College and then California State University Fullerton to pursue his Bachelor’s degree. It was there where he discovered his life’s pursuit in education, earning his teaching credentials, and eventually working his way to Fountain Valley High School. His career there spanned 35 years, and his influence was immediately powerful. Perhaps the greatest phase of his storied career was the period of 1975 to 1985, when he team-taught US History with Bill Lacey, becoming a legendary force in local education, thanks to the two educators’ dynamic methods of creative, interactive learning. The two teachers developed long-standing curriculum that emphasized historical re-enactments, role-playing, and simulations. As one of thousands of former students said, “Mr B. did more than teach history, he changed history. He was a man of vision who gave you the opportunity to place yourself in the past, and consider the options and decisions that [historical figures faced]. His lessons were captivating, filled with adventure, passion, and wisdom.”
John immersed himself in multiple roles at Fountain Valley High School, including junior and senior class advisor, prom coordinator, and on-campus Coastline Community College site administrator. For several years, he served as Mentor Teacher alongside Bill Lacey, helping other teachers become effective educators. In one of his more impactful roles, he served as student teacher coordinator for over twenty years, ushering wave after wave of influential teachers into the workforce. He was awarded local and state Teacher of the Year honors throughout the late 1990s and early 2000s before retiring from high school education in 2006. During and following that illustrious career, he was also an author, with Bill Lacey, of a dozen INTERACT publications, focusing on interactive history curriculum. Late in his career, he earned his Masters degree, and enjoyed a professorship at Chapman College. Throughout his years in education, and into retirement, he also teamed with Bill Lacey to present more than 200 workshop presentations to college classes, at teacher conferences, and at school districts about active learning strategies.
Reflecting on John’s career, a colleague said, “I cannot overstate the positive impact that John Bovberg had on the culture, climate, and professionalism of Fountain Valley High School. His teaching style emphasized student engagement, critical thinking, application to real-world problems, personalization, and multi-sensory involvement. His enthusiasm for students and for the profession of teaching was limitless.”
John’s impact on the thousands of students he taught, on the hundreds who became teachers because of John, and on the thousands of students those teachers will influence, is impressive and provides a little bit of comfort, knowing that his caring spirit and enthusiasm will endure. He was playful, popular, and proud. He lived his life with gusto, full of laughter, and he loved everyone. He will be dearly missed.