Love and respect for Frances Darling electrified the Chez Shari dining room on Friday evening as about 70 former Manteca High School Marching Band members paid tribute to the woman they consider their matriarch.
Darling was remembered as always being there for her late husband Leroy’s students when they needed someone to talk; as someone who understood their challenges on and off the field; and someone who often traveled with them to marching destinations such as the Western States Band Review in Long Beach and the Rose Parade in Pasadena on New Year’s day.
A dynamic drum major of the early 1960s, Paul Stein, served as the articulate emcee for the evening explaining how the scheduled tribute had actually saved Mrs. Darling’s life. He said when the 94-year-old senior had fallen and broken her hip and leg she admittedly prepared to day. What kept her fighting her life was the expectation of seeing all her band kids who were coming to see her after some 50 years.
Stein chuckled as he recalled serving under the direction of Manteca High’s drill (sergeant) instructor Leroy Darling – something that prepared him for the rigors of becoming a U.S. Navy aviator.
Mrs. Darling’s fan club came from near and as far as Texas, Missouri and Hawaii.
Those attending the event had been urged to arrive early at about 4 p.m. so they would be ready for her to be wheeled off the elevator into the second floor dining room at 5:30 after only days before being released from a rehabilitation facility where she had been treated for her leg injuries.
She was greeted with applause as she entered the dining hall and had a corsage pinned on her jacket. A crowd of her fans surrounded her with their hugs and kisses showing their undying love. As she was rolled to her table clicks from camera phones and flashes from cameras filled the room.
Sitting at her family table she took a microphone in hand and thanked her kids for being there for her. She reiterated the fact that she would have given up after her accident if she hadn’t cherished the thought of seeing them all the end of June.
Frances Darling, who had lived at the Raymus Mobile Home Park for years, is now a resident at Prestige Senior Living retirement center on East Louise Avenue in Manteca.