Columbine High School principal Frank DeAngelis gets ready for retirement, marriage, grandchildren

JEFFERSON COUNTY, Colo. - "It's bittersweet."

That's how Columbine principal Frank DeAngelis describes today.

It's the last day of the school year at Columbine High School.

DeAngelis has been through this 34 times at Columbine. However, this is his last, last day of school. He's retiring next month.

DeAngelis came in early this morning.

"I wanted a couple hours to prepare," DeAngelis said.

While DeAngelis has been principal at Columbine since 1996, he started at the school as a social studies teacher in 1979.

"As I was driving in this morning, I thought back to my first drive to Columbine in October 1979," DeAngelis said.

DeAngelis started in October, because Columbine was on a year-round schedule back then.

"I was 24 years old at the time. I'm not anymore," DeAngelis laughed. He's about to celebrate his 60th birthday.

"That first day, all the events in between, there are so many fond memories," DeAngelis said. "The good times outweighed the bad."

The worst day was an unforgettable day in April 1999 when two students took the lives of 12 classmates and a teacher before killing themselves.

"I can’t help thinking back to April 20, 1999 that changed our lives forever," DeAngelis said.

DeAngelis is pretty open about the personal toll the shootings had on his life. His marriage of 17 years fell apart, and doctors warned him of raised blood pressure and cholesterol levels.

DeAngelis said he is now healthier and remains very positive. He said he stayed at Columbine after the shooting because he promised the then-ninth grade class that he would not leave until they graduated. In 2012, he graduated students who were in kindergarten at the time of the shooting.

"I made a promise to remain, I'm proud that I did that," DeAngelis said.

But now he says it's time.

"I'll deeply miss it," DeAngelis said. "The staff has been wonderful, the parents have been wonderful, the students have been fantastic."

Last Saturday, DeAngelis presided over graduation. Today is final exams and saying good-bye to the students. Tomorrow, DeAngelis will address the staff for the final time.

"[I] expect it will be pretty emotional," DeAngelis.

He says the final year has gone quickly.

"At the beginning of the year, I thought I had the whole year. Then 100 some days," DeAngelis said. "I look at so many people, at end of their careers, counting the days until they retire, counting the minutes. I'm counting the days, but stating I only have 15 more days until I’m no longer the principal at Columbine High School. I'll be gone in a couple weeks."

DeAngelis' will leave Columbine in mid-June, but first he has to take down the pictures in his office and pack.

"I'll wait 'til everybody is gone, then my fiance and I will come up when no one is here, DeAngelis explained. "It's going to be pretty emotional. I'm sure each picture I take down will take me back."

That fiance, Diane, is one of the people who helped DeAngelis recover after the shooting. The two were high school sweethearts at Ranum High School in the 1970s, but went their separate ways. Each got married, but each also got divorced.

"Going through my divorce in January 2002, I was sitting in the house, waiting to close and move out, when I found these boxes of cards," DeAngelis said.

The 4,000+ cards had come after the shooting. DeAngelis said some of the cards offered thoughts and prayers.

"Some were not so nice," DeAngelis said. "At the time, my counselor said stop reading them."

Three years later, DeAngelis started reading again.

"One of the first cards I opened was from my high school sweetheart, it was sent three years earlier," DeAngelis said. "The card said, 'I'm not sure you remember me?' How do you forget your first love?"

DeAngelis said he still remembered Diane's mother's phone number because he had called it so many times as a teenager. It turned out the phone number was the same and Diane's mom still lived in the same house. After small talk, he asked about Diane and was given Diane's phone number.

"We literally talked on the phone for three months," DeAngelis said. "She was a great support system."

They reconnected after 30 years. They dated, and now they are engaged and expecting a granddaughter, Mia.

"I'm looking forward to being a grandpa," DeAngelis said.

DeAngelis will stay busy in retirement. He'll be busy buying a new house, getting married, spending time with his granddaughter and spending time with the rest of the family.

And he's not leaving Columbine completely. He's made another promise to students -- to be nearby.

"I'm so fortunate that Dr Somers [the new principal] will allow me to stay involved in certain activities -- the

"I promised all of the students here now that if they invite me to graduation, I’ll be sitting in the audience," DeAngelis said.

Print this article Back to Top