Senior Profile: Retired Bellingham teacher Dorothy Gonsalves travels the globe; loves Antarctica


Name: Dorothy Gonsalves.

Age: 86.

Hometown: Bellingham.

On the go: Dorothy Gonsalves has lived in her beautiful south Bellingham home for 44 years, but she has been anything but a homebody. She has visited all seven continents several times apiece, and has toured 163 areas with distinctly different political, ethnic or geographical aspects, most of them independent nations.

She also has visited all 50 states, and has toured hundreds of famed historical and natural sites.

Still on the move: Last year, Gonsalves embarked on a cruise from Cape Town, South Africa, to Spain with her grandnephew, but mechanical problems on the vessel cut the trip short in Ghana. They were awarded vouchers and will cruise from New York to Montreal via the Atlantic Ocean and historic rivers this summer.

"In our way, we'll finish the trip," she says.

Retired teacher: Gonsalves taught Spanish in the Bellingham School District from 1962 - when she shifted from businesswoman to teacher in her mid-30s -- through 1979. She first taught at Bellingham High, and then became part of the original faculty at Sehome High when that school opened in 1966.

Traveled with husband: Gonsalves and her husband, Harris Gonsalves, moved to Bellingham as newlyweds in 1948. He, too, taught Spanish at Bellingham High. The couple, who did not have children, embarked on dozens of trips before he died in 1993 at the age of 66.

New traveling companions: After her husband died, Gonsalves began taking trips and making new friends with Elderhostel and its Road Scholar program. She has made more than 50 such trips past two decades.

"I want to be traveling as long as I can," she says.

Grew up poor: Gonsalves grew up during the Great Depression in a Baltimore row house, and could only dream of visiting other areas of the East Coast, much less other nations. She was a teenager during World War II and followed overseas events, then graduated from Goucher, a college in Baltimore, with a degree in Spanish.

Fell in love: "When I was 20 I went on a summer vacation to New York City," she says of her first big getaway.

That's when she met Harris at a dance at a hotel at Times Square. "It was love at first sight," she says. "I saw him first on the stairs, then later he wanted to get away from another woman and he asked me to dance."

They married 11 months later. Harris was enrolled at Columbia University when they met, and he later graduated from Western Washington University (then a state college).

Came to Bellingham: "When we first arrived in Bellingham in 1948, we came via Chuckanut Drive and we arrived in Fairhaven," Gonsalves says. "I noticed everything seemed all boarded up, so at first I was glad we had a round-trip ticket."

She went to work at a jewelry store and then owned a blueprint shop. Her husband's first job was as principal of Lummi Day School.

First big trip: The couple paid for a berth in the owner's cabin on an East Coast cargo ship and landed in Rotterdam, Netherlands, in 1960.

"The Atlantic was rough and we had to take a train to Germany to pick up a VW Beetle," Gonsalves says. "We drove 23,000 miles all over Europe. This was just before the Berlin Wall went up; I remember how gray East Berlin seemed. I was very happy when they tore that wall down.

"Harris' family was from Puerto Rico and we loved Spain. That trip inspired me to teach Spanish."

American favorite: "Niagara Falls," Gonsalves answers, when asked about her favorite places in the U.S. "I just loved the falls. I also loved seeing New York from the top of the Empire State Building. Washington, D.C., is wonderful, especially with its monuments and the World War II and Korean War memorials."

Favorite continent: "Antarctica," she says without hesitation. "It's such a fascinating place. It's so amazing; the icebergs and the penguins."

Michelle Nolan is a Bellingham freelance writer.

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