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Barbara Hildebrand: Her life was a love of books & library

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Barbara Hildebrand: Her life was a love of books & library

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POSTED August 31, 2013 2:02 a.m.

Barbara Hildebrand received her master’s degree in physical therapy at Stanford. Her foray into the close fringes of the medical field was not surprising given the fact her parents were both doctors.

But her passion was books; and the library was her love.

Hildebrand passed away Wednesday. She was 92.

“She instilled in us the love of books and library. We were raised library users,” fondly recalled Mary, Hildebrand’s younger daughter.

Years later, Hildebrand would wistfully say that she should have studied library science. However, she found ways to channel her two passions – first at Nile Garden Elementary where, as a parent volunteer, she was tapped to develop a school library and then ran it for a couple of years, and later becoming a founding member of the Friends of the Manteca Public Library where she devoted thousands of hours working there as a volunteer.

“She was very dedicated to the library and made friends and saved things for people that sometimes didn’t come back. If somebody really wanted something, she’d put that aside for so and so,” said Betty Christy, the current president of the Friends of the Library remembering the tireless fellow volunteer who was a constant quiet presence, doing all kinds of work to help the ever budget-constrained library facility in downtown Manteca.

Christy recalled that Hildebrand was the Friends’ treasurer until a couple of years ago when she had to relinquish her responsibilities for health reasons. But even when she could not drive anymore and her family had to give her a ride to the library, she still came in to help doing such chores as restoring books that needed gluing, Christy said of Hildebrand who passed away on Wednesday at her farm home in southwest Manteca.

In later years, it was Barbara’s older daughter, Janet, who studied library science and became a librarian in Contra Costa County.

Born in Pasadena on May, 7, 1921, Hildebrand’s parents were both physicians. Her mother, Marie Grunewald Fitch, was stricken with Parkinson’s disease when she was quite young which denied her the chance to practice her profession, granddaughter Mary said. Her father, Stewart Jackson Fitch, was a general practitioner.

Hildebrand graduated class valedictorian in 1941 at Pasadena City College. She went on to receive her Bachelor of Science in Physical Education at the University of California, Los Angeles. Afterwards, she headed to Stanford on the strength of two fellowships – for teaching and for research – and received her master’s in physical therapy. It was her move to the Bay Area which led to her life-changing meeting with her future husband, Alexander. She worked as a physical therapist until they got married. Her husband, an engineer by profession, worked for Standard Oil in San Francisco and was actively involved for many years with the Sierra Club.

In 1962, the young couple moved to the quiet and bucolic area in southwest Manteca and lived at their farm near the San Joaquin River. Her father had actually purchased the farm in 1944 – or 1945 – she isn’t sure exactly which year it was. But the purchase was part of her father’s plan to take an early retirement and work at the farm.

“It’s not the greatest farm; a lot of it is over the levee. As a farm, it’s not the most profitable but it’s been a beautiful place to grow up,” said Mary.

She and her older sister Janet, a retired librarian from Contra Costa, grew up at the farm.

Barbara took on the quintessential role of a gentleman farmer’s wife, even driving the tractor in the fields.

“She helped him for many years,” Mary said of her staunchly loyal mother. They raised mainly feed crops – alfalfa, wheat, and silage corn.

Barbara was only too happy to welcome Mary back to Manteca in 1996 to help her father farm. With her daughter now taking an active role in helping her husband at the farm, Barbara was now able to “increase her (volunteer) hours at the library,” fondly recalled Mary who gave up farming and leased the farm to a neighbor farmer nearly two years ago to become a full-time caregiver for her parents.

Her move to Manteca was also providential. “I got here just in time for the 1997 floods. We left the property for seven weeks. It was the only time we’ve ever had to leave,” Mary said about the devastating deluge that forced the evacuation of several hundred residents around south Manteca and Tracy, including the Hildebrands.

While Alex Hildebrand, who died nearly two years ago at age 98, was farming and working as an engineer with the South Delta Water Agency, and working on the Delta issues and problems with top experts in the field at the same time, Barbara was herself caught up with her volunteer work at the library. Sometimes she worked as a substitute library staff member whenever there was a shortage of hands. She also resiliently worked on a many of the issues that pertained to the library including maintaining and increasing library hours, lobbying for more library services, and serving on library advisory boards.

Those tireless and selfless contributions led to her nomination to the Manteca Hall of Fame for her community services.

The family will hold a private family service for Barbara Hildebrand, “like we did for Dad,” Mary said.

The Manteca Friends of the Library are also considering holding a memorial event in Barbara’s honor at a future time.

Barbara Hildebrand was preceded in death by a younger brother, an Episcopal minister, who died three years ago. She leaves behind daughters Mary and Janet Hildebrand of Manteca, and their sister Harriett Patton of East Bay who was Alex Hildebrand’s daughter from his first marriage; granddaughters Linda Class and Kathleen Class (Michelle Martin), grandson David Class, great-granddaughters Ashley, Kayla and Aryanna; sisters- and brothers-in-law Nancy Fitch, Milton Hildebrand, Roger and Jane Hildebrand, and many nephews, nieces, and great-nieces and great-nephews.

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