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School Days

When the Newman family first came to Anderson Valley in the late 1950s, it was as part-timers; most weekends during autumn, winter and spring, and all summer when my parent’s summer camp near Philo, El Rancho Navarro, was in operation. That changed in early May of 1959, when we moved to camp. The move was precipitated by a bunch of reasons, the primary one being my parent’s inability to find a caretaker who could tolerate being alone in a place with only foot access six months of the year, no television, no local entertainment and an abundance of winter rain.

The old main house on the property burned to the ground the previous Thanksgiving, so we stayed in a couple of the cabins and made meals in the camp kitchen until the new house was finished late that summer. All four of us kids also started school at the Anderson Valley Unified School District, beginning with those last four weeks of the 1958-1959 school year.

I attended school in Anderson Valley for the next four-plus years. Most those years were spend in the former high school building, the High School having moved to its current home – then brand new – three or four years previous. Built around 1925, the former high school was used for 4th through 7th grades during my years in the valley, with a newer building just to the north handling 1st through 3rd grades and the one-room Con Creek School (moved slightly and now home to the Anderson Valley Historical Society) across old Highway 128 serving as the kindergarten.

The old high school building is long gone; torn down years ago. Vaguely Mission Revival in style and beige in color, the building had a broad front portico with a couple of steps that led to a similarly broad entryway. The principal’s office was directly to the right of the front door and just past the principal’s office was a perpendicular hall with classrooms on both sides. Beyond the entryway across this hall were the doors to the gym/auditorium. There also was a classroom in a separate small building on the south side of the gym/auditorium and a separate long shed-like building in back adjacent to the playground that housed the band room and janitor’s storage.

In between the old high school and the newer building was a nice blacktopped playground with swings, monkey bars and teeter totters, plus plenty of open ground. Way down the hill was the old football field. For some reason, marbles were a big game during my grammar school years. Also the yo-yo had one of its once-every-generation revivals and for about a year, everyone had one.

One anomaly of school in Anderson Valley back then was the school year, which ended approximately a week earlier (i.e. during the first in June) than everywhere else. Supposedly was a matter of agricultural necessity; enabling children to work alongside their parents in the orchards and pastures. Even back then, it was a bit of an anachronism.

As much as the school was different from today, so were the students. The student body was overwhelmingly white and overwhelmingly from families who had lived in Anderson Valley for generations. Anderson Valley’s isolation meant a fair number were related in some way or another. Besides us and a few other newcomers, the only other outsiders were the children of millworkers, mostly from Arkansas and Oklahoma.

Highway 101 was a two-lane road that went through every town back then and not the freeway of today. In 1962, my class went on a field trip to San Francisco, at least in part because some classmates had never been to San Francisco. Oddly, the trip coincided with the 25th anniversary of the bridge (May 25, 1962), so in addition to visiting the Academy of Sciences and eating in Chinatown, we saw the anniversary ceremony on the bridge from our bus.

Mr. Sanders, Mrs. Doggett and Mrs. Farrer were three of my teachers during those years, and all three were locals of long standing. A teacher’s desk near the front and a chalkboard on the front wall were standard equipment in all the classrooms. At the old high school building, our school day – beginning, recesses, lunch and end – were marked by ringing bells triggered by a big pendulum clock in the principal’s office, a truly handsome piece (with lots of brass and oak) of early 20th century technology.

The Newman kids’ schooldays became both more and less complicated in September of 1959, when my father, Irving Newman, became a teacher at the elementary school. He had enough graduate school units to get a provisional credential and into the classroom he went to teach fourth and fifth grades.

There is an unwritten rule that a teacher’s child does not get assigned to their parent’s classroom, so I missed that pleasure. However, he supervised recesses during those years and I also had him as a band teacher. Awkward!

While not based on personal classroom experience, I am sure my father was a good teacher – tough but fair. I also am sure he had the most illegible chalkboard writing in the history of the Anderson Valley Unified School District; his handwriting was cramped, canted and irregular at best, and chalk almost certainly made it worse.

My father drove us to school in the morning before heading to his classroom, which made our lives much easier, especially since the bus stop in Philo was a full mile from home. We took the school bus back to Philo in the afternoon and walked home from there. Rea Ingram drove the route that went north on Highway 128 to Navarro and perhaps a bit beyond, kept the bus overnight at his house near the highway between Philo and Navarro and drove the reverse trip to school the next morning. When I was attending the elementary school, I often would wheedle a nickel from my dad during lunch, with which I bought red licorice at the Philo Market – conveniently located at the bus stop – to eat on the walk home.

During fifth grade, I became one of the school’s audio-visual kids. I think the reason I was selected was the staff felt I could I miss an hour of class here and there and still keep up. Back then there were no DVDs or VCRs: we showed 16mm movies. The projectors were ungainly masterpieces of 1950s industrial art, the movies were black and white, and the dominant subject was science, as most of them were made by Westinghouse and Bell Labs. The best classroom for movies was the kindergarten; the wee ones got excited the moment I crossed the threshold because my arrival meant a movie.

During those days, students moved from the elementary school to the high school for 8th grade. Sitting in the back of the homeroom for most of that year made my nearsightedness painfully obvious: I’ve worn glasses ever since.

Moving on to the High School brought another problem. If I had sports practice or other afterschool activities, I had to find my own way back to Philo. In those days, many of us hitchhiked. Often someone from the school provided a ride without problem. However, on one occasion, a senior (whose name will be withheld – he probably feels bad now, but more likely does not even remember) and a couple of his buddies picked me up and proceeded to drive right past Philo, taking great pleasure in my rapidly rising fright. He eventually turned around and dropped me at the old Philo Market (where Starr Automotive is now), none the worse for wear.

Anderson Valley again became our part-time home in the fall of 1963, when we moved to Petaluma. I went from high school to middle school and from a class of 50 (big by AV standards) to a class of 400. By then a small town kid, I hated the transition.

Years later I was attending University of California at Davis and met a young lady in the dormitory lounge. As we got acquainted, I mentioned I was from Petaluma but also had lived for a while in Mendocino County in a tiny town she’d probably never heard of named Philo. She enjoyed a good laugh before telling me she had heard of Philo, as she was from Comptche! It is a small world.


  1. George Hollister June 8, 2014

    “Years later I was attending University of California at Davis and met a young lady in the dormitory lounge. As we got acquainted, I mentioned I was from Petaluma but also had lived for a while in Mendocino County in a tiny town she’d probably never heard of named Philo. She enjoyed a good laugh before telling me she had heard of Philo, as she was from Comptche! It is a small world.”

    My sister Anne from Comptche, started Davis in the Fall of 1968, and lived in the dorms for the ’68-’69 school years. She may have been in the dorms the next year as well. I would know the name of the dorm if I heard it. I am not aware of any other person from Comptche, from that era, that attended UC Davis. Funny, that was 46 years ago.

    • George Hollister June 8, 2014

      The dorm Anne lived in while a freshman at Davis was Gilmore Hall.

  2. Marshall Newman June 9, 2014

    George, the year is correct and the location is close, as I lived in Struve-Titus Hall (which was torn down in the mid-1990s) that year. Tell Anne “hello” for me. Small world, indeed!

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