Retired De Anza High English teacher Karen Mason was chosen as Hometown Hero because of her dedication to the school, her students and the surrounding El Sobrante community.

In interviews before and after her death on New Year's Eve, those who knew Mason shared many memories of the woman whom many looked up to as a consummate educator and honorary mom or grandma:

Tom Mason, husband:

From November interview with his wife:

"When we went to the grocery stores, it would take us two hours just to get milk and bread, because in every aisle, we would stop and talk to people. But it was a good thing. We like people."

From interview after his wife's death:

"We went to her brother's house for Thanksgiving in Tahoe. We went to her sister's house in Wheatland for Christmas. That's the only thing she wanted to do -- was to be around for Christmas. Of course, everybody in the world is her family, and that's OK too."

Justin Jones, former student (speaking with Mason during November interview):

"One thing I really learned from Ms. Mason is to treat each student as if they're your child. Or, for me, as if they're your sibling. How would you be willing to fight for that child, no matter who it is?"

"You have given students the ability to feel that they have a voice."

Anka Lee, former student:

"I was still learning about American politics and how government worked. She wanted you to see it. For somebody who had just arrived to the country (from Hong Kong), to have somebody who accepted me and somebody who pushed me to do the things I wanted to do -- and just kind of build that sense of confidence -- that was liberating. I can never thank Karen enough for pushing me in that direction."

"How poetic that in the last months of her life, she would return to De Anza High, where they renamed a wing in her honor. The school had fallen apart in many ways and was rebuilt. She was still there. Hopefully, the students -- when they see Mason Hall -- they will understand how that came to be. They will remember her stories and find their own assertiveness and courage and fearlessness and move forward to keep things right. If we can do that, we will make Karen proud."

Mel Otten, former student and teacher colleague:

"Her enthusiasm was kind of infectious. Even after she supposedly retired from teaching, she kept teaching and kept volunteering and giving."

"When Hercules High opened up, a bunch of us left to go there, because we thought De Anza was starting to go downhill. But she said, 'No, I'm sticking with it. This is my school.'"

Gary Ochs, former teacher colleague:

"Her room was always crowded with kids. She just had that open-door policy with her classroom and was always there to talk to somebody and lend a helping hand. She was a big, integral part of the spirit of De Anza and supported everything from academics to athletics. She was always there with words of encouragement or words of advice to a colleague. To this day, I think that she symbolizes the kind of teacher I like to strive for. It was about developing the relationship with the students and teaching a lot more than the subject -- teaching life, teaching how to be a good person. She was somebody you're always going to look up to."

"She had great enthusiasm and great spirit and was probably one of the most positive people I've ever known. She just loved what she did and gave 110 percent of herself to everybody all the time. It was definitely about caring. She said 'love the kids' many a time. I say, as an educator, you don't learn from people you don't like. Karen was loved, so it just all worked together."

Doris Headington, former office manager colleague:

"De Anza colors are red and gold. Every Friday, we wore red and gold. I remember Karen and I getting on the spirit buses with all our spirit garb on and we just had a blast with the kids. She was someone who could incite pride. I always joked that her blood ran red and gold."

"At the dedication ceremony, kids from all different classes and ages came back. You saw kids from 30 years or more. The thing about Karen was she saw good in every kid. There were a lot of at-risk kids and everybody gave up on them. But she didn't. She made it a point to seek out those kids and showed them they had a purpose. Her house was open 24-7. If a kid needed a meal or a job or clothing, she would find a way to make whatever they needed come true."

"She just left an impression on everyone that she came in contact with. She spread the love. I used to joke and call her 'Mother De Anza' because everyone knew her."

"She just lives on in all of us -- anybody that ever went through De Anza in any capacity -- we all have her in our hearts."

Barbara Openshaw, friend:

"She always had answers to everything or a solution or way to help. Even when she was ill and dealing with stuff, she was always helping other people."

"She was the most caring person I've ever known. She was always happy and always thinking about other people before herself."

Karlyn Barker, former classmate and friend:

"She just had so much energy and dedication to helping her community and to helping in education. I saw personally her dedication to her students and the effort she would make to come with them to Washington, D.C. every year."

"She helped organize high school reunions for our class of 1964. Our 50th high school reunion is going to be in September this year. Everyone will miss her because she's been at every high school reunion. We'll be thinking of her."

Mark Bish, community member:

"Karen's big influence on me was that she was so civic-minded. She was all about El Sobrante and the kids and the families. I volunteer in my kids' Little League. This is kind of my way of paying back in honor of Karen and what she had shown. That was her thing -- giving back."

"At the dedication, Karen's speech was from the heart. Probably the part that stood out to me the most was that you matter to somebody. Just go out and do good every day and whatever you have to give, give it back. Somebody -- at some point in somebody's life -- gave to them. And we would not be the people we were if somebody had not stepped up and given us something."

Theresa Harrington covers education. Reach her at 925-945-4764 or tharrington@bayareanewsgroup.com. Follow her at Twitter.com/tunedtotheresa.