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Zelda Allen, 85, still keeping up with kids in kindergarten

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Zelda Allen, 85, still  keeping up with kids in kindergarten

Zelda Allen, who will turn 85 today, stands in front of the portrait of Joseph Widmer, Jr. after whom the school at Stonebridge in Lathrop was named.


POSTED December 21, 2012 12:43 a.m.

A lot of people look forward to retirement. Not Zelda Allen.

“That I can’t tell you,” she said with a laugh when asked when she plans to retire.

“I may get out of bed one morning and say, ‘this is it.’ But I love what I do, and there’s no reason for me to stay at home by myself. You can only clean so much,” said Allen who turns 85 today.

The oldest member of the staff at Joseph Widmer, Jr. Elementary School in Lathrop has been working as a yard duty supervisor for two decades. First, she was at Lincoln School on East Yosemite in Manteca. Then when the school principal, Cathy Scholl, was transferred to Stella Brockman School, she took Allen with her.

Allen was at Lincoln and Stella Brockman for 10 years, and has been at Widmer for the last decade.

“I’ve had chances to retire but I chose not to. I’m going to keep tying shoelaces and hugging little kids. I love the little kids,” said the mother of three, grandmother of seven, and great-grandmother of two.

The part-time job with Manteca Unified became available right when she was retiring from the California Cedar pencil company in Stockton. One day, a friend and neighbor from across the street found out Allen just retired the day before. The neighbor was moving to Fresno and had to give up her job as yard duty at Lincoln School.

“She knew I had retired the day before so she came over and asked if I can take her place at Lincoln School,” recalled Allen who considered the job with trepidation because she has not had any experience doing that kind of work.

But the neighbor assured Allen that was not necessary.

Retired one day went to work on yard duty the next

“She said, ‘all you do is watch the kids and make sure they don’t get hurt,’” said Allen who got sold on the idea.

“So I retired one day, then I went to work for the school district the next day. That’s been 20 years now,” Allen said laughing at the memory.

“I’m so glad I said yes to the district because I lost my husband 12 years ago and it’s very lonely having to stay at home by myself,” she said.

Her late husband, Alfred, worked for Crystal Milk Company in Stockton. After he retired, he opened up a tune-up shop on South Main Street where the new Manteca Animal Shelter is now located, and called it Allen’s Tune-up. He was 73 years old when he passed away 12 years ago.

Work is not an alien concept for Allen who grew up during the Great Depression.

“I’m an Okie,” she said proudly. “We came out to California in 1939 when I was about 13 years old.”

The promise of work in California is what motivated the family to come West. “That was during the Great Depression. We had to have work. So we came out here, to the other side of Lodi – in Thornton. Everybody in the family worked. While my parents were picking fruits and vegetables and working in the fields, I was babysitting the kids in the camp,” remembered Allen.

She had two other siblings. “I had two brothers; I was the middle kid,” she said.

When she is not working at Widmer School and with her chores inside the house all done, Allen can be found outside in her yard puttering in the garden.

“I have a huge back yard, and I have flower beds around the patio,” said the fiercely independent octogenarian whose resilience is an inspiration to her children and grandchildren.

“It blesses me, just to watch her. And she’s such in excellent health,” said daughter Annette Garrett, the former director of the now-defunct Manteca Christian School. She now works as executive administrator for a church-supported non-profit organization in Tracy.

“She does things around the house that amazes me. If she wasn’t so independent, I think she would just sit and be done with everything. But she gets out and she pulls her weeds. She goes out and cuts her roses back. I tell her not to do those things, that I’d do it for her. But she has them done before I get there. She washes her windows on the outside all the time, and even uses a ladder to do it. I think a little bit of stubbornness makes her do it,” Garrett said with a laugh.

“If I’m just as healthy as she is, and if I make it to 85, I’ll be just blessed, because I can’t keep up with the woman,” she said, laughing even harder.

She’s not about to retire anytime soon

Several people have told her mother that she needs to stop working and retire, Garrett said. “But she’s worked all her life, and the job keeps her busy. And right now, the kids keep her going; she has a reason to get up in the morning. She loves working with the kindergarteners and first graders.”

She said the family has something special planned for Allen’s 85th birthday celebration. The family also plans to celebrate Christmas together at the Garretts’ home.

“I used to have Christmas here at the house and everybody would come, but whenever you lose a loved one, it’s not the same,” Allen said referring to the passing of her husband.

While she babysat her five grandchildren, Allen has not done the same thing with the great-grandkids. The oldest grandson, 33-year-old Aaron, lives in Colorado and is the only member of the family living outside the Golden State.

“I love my grandkids. They are my pride and my joy. I just love them to pieces. I see them all the time,” except the grandson in Colorado, she said.

Getting together is quite easy because they all live within a few minutes’ drive from each other’s homes. Garrett, for one, lives within nine blocks away from her mother’s house.

Allen’s dedication to the schoolchildren at Widmer School is not lost on the staff including Vice Principal Annette Roberts-Murray.

“She’s very good with the little kids. She’s very helpful and very sensitive to other people’s needs. She’s not one who wants to retire; she’s a little feisty,” she said.

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