By Carrie Paldanius
He isn’t running for president yet or playing tournament poker in Las Vegas.
But David Raffetto is busy doing many other things, including traveling the globe, playing string bass in a local orchestra, selling men’s fashions in a downtown department store, and teaching Spanish language classes at Chemeketa.
His Spanish skills are what bring him to Chemeketa’s Salem campus each week. He teaches Monday through Friday and for five hours on Saturday mornings.
Raffetto has been teaching at Chemeketa for four years.
He is passionate about his teaching. “If I do a good job, students can have twice as many friends because they speak twice as many languages, he said. “It would be great if we could all move comfortably through many different cultures.”
You can still hear the New Jersey Accent when he talks.
Raffetto was born in New Jersey, where he spent much of his time helping his father and grandfather in the ice cream parlor that his family owned.
“I still feel as if New Jersey is my home,” he said.
When he was 10, his family moved across the country to live in Anaheim, in Southern California, a day’s drive away from Mexico. Children there were required to learn Spanish in grade school.
This simple fact had a profound effect on Raffetto’s life; he has been learning and speaking Spanish ever since, although he has mastered other languages as well. He also speaks fluent French and Italian, with some Classical Greek and Latin.
“When Mr. Raffetto speaks Spanish, it sounds like he has been speaking it all his life,” Chemeketa student Jennifer Hile said. “He is so fluent and smooth.”
Raffetto said he enjoyed teaching Spanish at Chemeketa. “For fun, I teach. It is way better than working. It is work, but it is fun. It is helpful; it helps to build a better world,” he said.
Learning multiple languages has inspired Raffetto to travel to other countries to see how other people live. He has been to Mexico several times; one of his favorite cities there is Mérida.
“There are many old, historical buildings there,” he said. “It is a nice place to visit.”
Traveling also is one of his favorite experiences. “There is a whole big world out there,” he said.
When he first graduated from college, Raffetto took a sweeping tour of Western Europe that included such places as Denmark, Sweden, and Finland.
“It was back in the days before they would allow Americans into Russia. I had to settle for standing in Finland and looking across to see Russia,” he said.
Raffetto has traveled to Argentina in South America; Italy, in southern Europe; and to Spain, in southwestern Europe. Many of his students said that they were impressed with his travel experiences and hoped that they could experience some of the excitement of traveling as well.
Chemeketa student Maria Jackson, who is learning Spanish, said, “I think that it would be fun to visit many different countries. I would like to do that someday.”
According to his students, Raffetto’s travel experiences have helped to make him an interesting and inspirational instructor.
In his classroom, the students take their seats in anticipation of learning a new skill. Before class, Raffetto is often busy photo copying Spanish conversation pages and reflexive verb lists for the students. He sometimes plays music from other countries in his classroom.
He also is always ready to talk with students and answer their questions, and to engage in some conversation.
“I like to listen to the funny things he says about his sister,” Hile said. “He tells jokes about his sister and things that are so funny; it helps make learning more fun.”
According to his students, Raffetto is casual but serious and efficient at the same time.
He is organized; he is meticulous. He has a filing system that helps him keep track of students’ homework and grades.
Raffetto is dedicated to teaching Spanish language skills. “I would hold class even if there wasn’t the required number of students because the students and the subject are so important to me,” he said during a recent Spanish class.
His dedication to learning and teaching languages has enabled him to practice his language and teaching skills. He spent 2004 in Uruguay, for example, where he was a visiting Fulbright Specialist, working as an education expert on secondary foreign language teaching methods.
“I traveled to different schools and taught English, Spanish, and foreign language teaching methods,” he said. “It was a real interesting experience.
“I worked at the university and lived in this neat city called Punte del Este. There were many things to do there. I was on the coast, near the Casino City.”
Casino City is a lively place that offers casinos, cruise ships, horse and dog track racing – a complete gambling landscape.
“It was a fun place to live. I have a lot of good memories of Uruguay,” he said.
Raffetto enjoys teaching foreign languages. “I would like to teach full time if I could,” he said.
At present, however, Raffetto has another job that keeps him equally busy.
On many afternoons, as soon as he is done teaching his Chemeketa class, he jumps into his pickup so that he can get to the Nordstrom’s department store in downtown Salem. He often spends another eight hours a day selling men’s clothing.
“I don’t mind it,” Raffetto said of his hectic schedule. “I enjoy working at Nordstrom’s, and I get to meet a lot of interesting people.”
Working fulltime at Nordstrom’s gives him many opportunities to use his multiple language skills. On one occasion, for example, he said that he helped a man who spoke with an Argentina accent.
“I could tell from across the room that he spoke a different dialect of Spanish,” Raffetto said. “Spanish is like English here in America. You can tell if a person is from the southern or eastern states here in the United States by their accent.”
Raffetto said that many customers who come to the Nordstrom’s store like finding someone they can talk with and who can understand them.
Stephanie Hernandez said about her recent Nordstrom’s shopping trip, “It helps me to make sense of the different products that are offered if someone can explain some things to me in Spanish.”
Several of Raffetto’s students visit him in Nordstrom’s from time to time; some go to buy things, and some simply like to look around.
Chemeketa student Michael Anderson said, “I went down there the other day, and I bought a shirt and some shoes. Mr. Raffetto was busy working on the cash register, but he took some time to help us.”
Many students are impressed with the schedule that Raffetto keeps.
“He works a lot,” Spanish language student Laura Martinez said. “I go to school and work part time, but I always see Mr. Raffetto jaunting off to work for another eight hours after teaching our Spanish class for five hours on Saturday mornings, and I wonder how he does it sometimes.”
On a recent Saturday in March, Raffetto left his Spanish class a few minutes early so that he could attend a dress rehearsal with the Salem Pops Orchestra. In addition to his multiple language skills, he also plays first chair string bass in the renowned local orchestra.
Every week on Monday evenings, he practices with the orchestra for two hours.
Raffetto encourages other people to come and watch and possibly even join the orchestra if they are musically inclined. “Anybody who plays can audition for the orchestra,” he said. “It is an open community orchestra.”
Raffetto has been playing instruments since he was in junior high school. He plays the string bass now and also dabbles with the Cello.
He is hoping to further explore learning to play the Cello. He was excited recently as he talked about the efforts that he has been taking to obtain a cello for practice sessions.
“I have an old friend who has offered to let me borrow her cello to learn on because she is planning to buy a new one,” he said.
The orchestra recently performed at the Historic Elsinore Theater in downtown Salem.
When he isn’t working, Raffetto said that he enjoyed spending time with his wife. “She laughs at my bad jokes, and I listen to the stories she tells,” he said.
He has a son who lives in Portland and works at a laboratory job and a daughter in Africa who teaches English with the Peace Corps. Both are busy, “but we Skype often,” he said.
Many of his students said that Raffetto’s music and travels are some of the things that add interesting branches to his personality and teaching style.
“I think that he is a great teacher. It is the subject that can be tough,” student Emily Smith said recently after a Saturday class.
Raffetto encourages students by reminding them that “everyone can learn Spanish; you just have to practice.”
Raffetto also has this piece of advice for college students: “Find out what you are passionate about. What really matters to you? Follow that passion and the influences that affect it. Find a job that deals with that passion and keep learning. It won’t be work if it is something you love.
“Find a job that you would do for free, even if you won the lottery. If you can dream it, you can make it happen. Life isn’t for wimps: every time life knocks you down, get back up and on your track. The winner doesn’t have to be the smartest, the biggest, or fastest. To win, all you have to do is keep working at the things that are important to you.”