Editor’s note: An occasional series on the people who have helped build Manteca as the city gets ready to celebrate the 100th anniversary of incorporation this year.
Dick Durham left his mark on East Union High during 18-year tenure as principal.
Durham and his wife Ernie were longtime Manteca residents. Durham served 25 years in the Manteca Unified School District before being tapped in 1974 to lead the Lancers. His education career spanned nearly half a century. That was extended after his retirement in 1993 as he was called on by districts across the region to serve as a subsitute principal.
Durham was also responsible for launching Calla Continuation High School in 1970.
He was the fourth principal at East Union following Phil Rodoni, Bob Trigg and Gary Brophy – the latter assigned earlier to move to Calla High with Durham, then to the MUSD office and to East Union and later being replaced by Durham. As East Union principal Durham was followed by Linda Frost, Roger Hartman, John Alba and now Raul Mora.
“They first hired me for Calla and gave me an empty building. I hired the first four teachers and we had four kids enroll. Bud Keema was the superintendent,” he said. “We had to have one teacher for every 15 students.”
Durham started as East Union principal with the Class of 1975. At the same time Ernie began teaching adult school at Calla with a business class and also serving as a student counselor.
Ernie also taught business classes to women inmates – including one woman wrestler and an 80-year-old hooker.
“Ernie was so successful at the adult school that a principal in Tracy called and asked if she could work for him in the mornings – so it was back to Manteca in the afternoons,” he recalled. “The adult school was moved to the shuttered Calla School on Austin Road in 1973 and we had many veterans as students who hadn’t graduated from high school before their military service – getting their diplomas in six months.”
Durham said he created two new classes at Calla using community contacts where he found teachers in the community who had backgrounds in painting and in upholstery.
During his tenure at East Union he said he never had to close his office door when talking to a staff member finding that the “walk and talk” approach was the best in ironing out problems.
Durham served in the U.S. Marine Corps in 1946 and 1947 in the First China Air Wing and then was called back to duty in Korea. He remembered that a railroad right-of-way was off limits at night and could be used to drive to town only during the daylight hours. One night he and his buddies were late in returning back to base and by the time they arrived they had numerous bullet holes in their Jeep.
“I bought a new, light green 1949 Ford convertible in May of that year and got a new wife in June,” he said after finishing his tour in China. “That was the year.”
Prior to coming to Manteca, Durham taught in Sacramento for the Grant Union School District serving at Del Paso Junior High and at Campo Verde Junior High in North Highlands. His goal was to become a counselor at Del Rio High School. He taught woodshop and crafts while also teaching math classes.
A future Manteca High principal, Ed Brasmer, had worked with Ernie Durham in the credit department at Sears in the Sacramento area and taught with Durham for five years in Sacramento. It was a precursor to his being hired in Manteca after working under Peter Dalben, high school vice principal in Sacramento, who later became a school board trustee in Manteca.
Durham had taught for five years at Highland High School and then to Foothill High when it was opened. The two schools had the same principal who trained both Durham and Brasmer in the leadership skills needed to become viable school principals.
In his early retirement, he was sought after by Ripon Superintendent Leo Zuber to act as a long-term principal at Ripon High School after they lost their principal. Durham said he remembers Zuber telling him that he was getting tired of being both the superintendent and the high school principal and needed his help.
Durham said East Union was among the School Improvement Schools – a state program in a consortium where principals agreed to review other secondary schools that needed changes to better their programs.
“We had come from good schools in Sacramento,” Durham said. “From that experience we won the East Union football championship in my first year.”
Ernie became an “in-school” adult school supervisor for the adult school in a room off the library at East Union next to Durham’s office where she could monitor students doing their work on independent study or they would have to go home on suspension.
As for their children, Richard Jr. is teaching driver training for Mercedes Benz. Daughter Joanne Balesteri has retired from being principal at French Camp School following assignments at Golden West Elementary and Shasta Elementary School, both in Manteca.
Son Jim lives in Fresno and just turned 60 where he and his racquetball partner won the coveted National Championship in doubles play.
Christine Etcheerberry is the youngest and works for Tony Harrah and his Wild Island Amusement Park just beyond John Ascuagas Nugget where she works with the firm’s finance director.
The Durhams’ now reside in the Spring Creek neighborhood in Ripon where they have learned to appreciate the quiet of that area near the Stanislaus River.
To contact Glenn Kahl, email firstname.lastname@example.org.