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Broom helped push him into education
Rodoni Centennial DSC 2488 copy
Happily married for 50 years Felice and Norma Rodoni stand together inside their Ripon home cherishing memories of their lives that began with a date go to a formal graduation dinner. Rodoni was the first principal of East Union High School. - photo by GLENN KAHL/The Bulletin

Retired and revered as a Manteca and San Joaquin County educator Felice Rodoni is about to turn 90 with the sharp memory of a 20-year-old.
He will soon celebrate his 50th wedding anniversary with his wife Norma at their Ripon home.
Felice is proud of his green thumb and cymbidium orchid plants in two very large pots spreading over an area of 3X6 feet that have an unbelievable set of yellow blooms beneath a screened covering in his yard. He explained the plants are about 15 years old and have been blooming faithfully, even after moving them from another home.
A friend described his garden as being “right out of a Better Homes and Gardens Magazine.”
Their back yard is framed by plants and flowers that he and his wife tend to weekly. He has carefully pruned them to excellence in their presentations beyond the rear patio of their home.
Upon the unification of the Manteca Unified School District, Rodoni was appointed principal of East Union High School and assigned to the planning and development of the new high school.  His leadership was credited as a driving force which led to the establishment of an esprit de corps for students, staff and parents which resulted in numerous projects being completed to improve the school plans and atmosphere.

Attended old
Yosemite School
As a youth he attended the old Yosemite School in his primary years at seven years old. He later graduated from Manteca High School.  Rodoni grew up in his early years to the west of Manteca attending Mountain House Elementary School near where his parents had a large dairy. He learned to milk cows at a young age. There were two strings of 30 cows with him eventually responsible for 30.
His pets were a couple of dogs, lambs and a duck – “that was how I entertained myself,” he chuckled.
Rodoni’s parents Josie and Josepi had immigrated from their native Italy to America to farm, raising their family in the valley.
At about 4-years-old, he would walk over to the old school house beyond their home before he was even a registered student. The teacher — Mrs. Edna Carpenter — would give him clothes hangers to paint as a project at her two-room schoolhouse.  Only one room was in use due to the small enrollment. It was that year that she asked to board with the Rodoni family, since she was a widow living alone. 
Rodoni said his mother insisted that he go on to college with hopes his one brother would run the dairy and Felice would become a veterinarian to care for their cows.  Emil LaSalle was his Ag teacher at Manteca High and married to the daughter of the president of Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo – that was his “in” for his planned college years for a home away from home. 

He rode to Cal Poly
curled up on coupe’s
rear window ledge
He and the well-known Rich Richina were classmates at Manteca Union High School. Richina had relatives living near the college and that was their opportunity in finding a place to stay.  They both applied for admission in 1945 at the end of World War II. Rodoni and Richina took the trip to Cal Poly in a 1937 coupe with both mothers.  With a lack of room in the car, Rodoni curled up on the rear window ledge. 
When they got on campus, Rodoni said his mom told someone that her son needed to go to school there and stressed that he was from a dairy farm and needed college classes to match.
It was like she was taking his hand at Cal Poly when she said, “I want you to put him in classes for dairy and maybe some day he can be a veterinarian – and he also needs a job while going to school. He knows how to milk cows starting at 1 a.m.”
It was a challenge for Rodoni to milk cows, attend classes and keep up on his homework but he brought it all together.  He would milk those cows until 6 a.m. and then attempt to get a little sleep.
“To make matters worse, I was playing the accordion.  When I was in the fourth grade in Mountain House a man had come to the door selling violin lessons and my mom fell for it,” he said.  “I protested but had no choice as mom was told I would learn all the notes and that would help with my eventual accordion lessons as a sophomore at Manteca High.  She was stern.”
He added that he had to go to accordion lessons once a week on Sutter Street in Stockton while in high school.  When he went to Cal Poly he had to take that accordion with him but noted he just didn’t have time to practice.  In his first year at Cal Poly his brother had a stroke and Rodoni had to leave school and take care of the dairy and plant black eyed peas and corn for sileage.
The end of that summer at their French Camp home his mother insisted that he go back to school and some friend told her about Modesto Junior College and its Ag Department, he said – besides they had cows, which made her even more interested.
Not familiar with the Modesto campus and with her son walking at her side, his mother found a man walking along the sidewalk and she asked for directions to the Ag Department. He pointed across the way and they went inside a building and she knocked on a door of an already occupied classroom.  They found no less than the head of the Ag Department answering the door.  Within two hours, her son was registered, thanks to his mother’s insistence.  He got his AA degree after one year at MJC combining the one year already earned from Cal Poly.
During that summer he found himself back on the family farm, planting beans and corn again with his mother anxious that he go back to school.  Not too excited about additional Ag classes, he took typing and bookkeeping. Being a Business major was still foremost in his dreams for the future. 
His mother became seriously ill and couldn’t be left alone and they still had some 30 cows that had to be milked twice a day. That interrupted his school plans once again.
 A friend told him about College of the Pacific (COP) after she recovered and they went together to the Stockton campus with his transcripts and learned they only accepted juniors and seniors and was told to go back to MJC for additional units that would be transferrable – some he had were not acceptable.  The year was 1951 and he received his Business Degree.
Plans he had made to find a job with a Stockton business or office firm were scuttled by the urging of his mother who said he had better stay with teaching.  She wanted him to go back to UOP to be a teacher and he desperately wanted to find an accounting position.

When  he wanted to go
into business instead, his
mom chased him
swinging a broom
When he countered her wishes verbally, she chased him out of the house with a broom swinging behind him. He realized he had lost the discussion and took another year to get his teaching credential. He landed a practice teaching job at Manteca High School where he also taught Business classes. 
Rodoni said he had all but been hired for a full-time teaching position in Modesto – something he really wanted.  However, after MUHS Superintendent Joe Blanchard called and offered him a permanent job in Manteca, his mother was again insistent that he take it. 
“Apply in Manteca and you can still milk cows,” he remembers her urging. About 25 years old at the time, he worked in Manteca for 17 years and then hired by Delta College to be the assistant to the Dean of Students for the Dean who was out sick.  Blanchard was president of the junior college at that time and had wanted him to teach Business and Typing, but the dean passed away and he moved into her administrative position. 
Rodoni didn’t retire from Delta until 1995, returning to the campus on an independent contract for nine more years as the Foreign Student Advisor and for his last three years serving as the Dean of Instruction for Arts and Sciences. He had become known as a person with an “open door policy” and was always available to help students who were in need of a helping hand.
On August 5, Felice and Norma will celebrate their golden wedding anniversary at their daughter Felicia’s home in Woodland.  She is also in education and following in her Dad’s footsteps as a K-6 elementary school principal in that community.  She and her husband have two of their grandsons Blaine, 14 and Andrew 13.
Son Philip is a chief technical officer with a waste management company in Atlanta, Georgia where he and his wife have their two children and granddaughters Elena, 9 and Livia 5.
Norma Rodoni said her husband is great in the kitchen as well as in the gardens and makes the best minestrone soup and outstanding sauce for pasta.
“Anything I need, he can create for me,” she whispered.
Rodoni’s family and Norma’s lived near each other in French Camp and they both moved to Burlingame months apart where they again socialized and spent several Christmases together. There was a formal dinner party that he was expected to attend with a date – but he hadn’t asked anyone.  An aunt strongly suggested that he take Norma with him after he had procrastinated – “here’s her phone number,” she mused and Norma accepted.  That was the beginning of a serious romance and a long and happy married life, they both agreed.  And Norma, she still blushes when telling of their happy times together over the years.

To contact Glenn Kahl, email