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Manteca’s Darlings

MHS band reunion will honor Francis Darling, the widow of beloved instructor Leroy Darling

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Manteca’s Darlings

Frances and Leroy Darling appear very pleased at a special dinner honoring the Manteca High music director for his 23 years of service. He served several school districts prior to coming to Mantec...

Photo Courtesy Dale Johnson/

POSTED June 26, 2014 12:13 a.m.

Striking up the band with heart and soul memories is the order of the day early Friday evening when Leroy Darling’s former Manteca High musicians will be marching through the front door of the Chez Shari dining room at the city golf course on Union Road.

Darling was known for his 100-strong band and creative routines played out at halftime at Manteca’s home gridiron that served as additional Friday night entertainment for the Manteca community.  He felt that being a member of the band would help develop the teens.  “Teach a kid to blow a horn instead of a safe,” was one of his off-the-cuff remarks toward making a difference in their lives as a concerned task master. 

Organizers hope the crowd will arrive early – about 4 p.m. – so they can all be ready to greet Darling’s widow, Frances Darling, as she arrives at 5:30.  While the event serves as a reunion for the group, the focus will be on Darlin’s wife who was there for them through their four years of high school, making their school experience with the band special.  

She served as a mother figure to the band members, while her husband had them as putty in his hands to the delight of the community’s football fans.

One of her favorite memories is when she joined her husband in 1965 to fly out of San Francisco on a charter for the inauguration of President Lyndon B. Johnson at the beginning of his second term.  More importantly, they had been invited by Vice President Hubert Humphrey, who had attended a South Dakota College with Leroy.  

She attended a reception for distinguished ladies in the National Gallery of Art; both were invited to a Democratic gala in the National Guard Armory.  The following evening the Darlings attended a reception honoring Humphrey and his wife at the Shoreham Hotel – later in the evening going to the Inaugural Concert in Constitution Hall.

On Wednesday, Jan. 20, the Manteca band instructor, with Frances at his side, were special guests seated in front of the Capitol for the official Inaugural ceremonies.  Later that same day they attended the Inaugural Ball and then flew on to Boston the next day to visit their daughter Teddie.

Frances, a former elementary school teacher in Manteca, had moved to the El Rancho Mobile Home Park after her husband passed away.  She quickly became something of a pro at shuffleboard and at 74, a roving ambassador, realizing the sport needed new blood and sought to get the younger set involved in the game.

She felt shuffleboard was more than a game for senior citizens on cruise ships. “It doesn’t take a lot of energy, but the strategy is something I never tire of,” she said, back in 1994. “A lot of our players have either moved or died.”

She managed to draw in new talent, “youngsters” in their 40s and 50s.

Frances Darling’s brother, John Abbot, got her interested in the game in the early ‘80s.  She went on to finish in fourth place in the 1983 Western Regional singles tournament and competed for many years.  

Frances should feel very loved by the end of the Friday night reunion.

Leroy and Frances Darling have surely left their mark in Manteca.

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