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MS fails to stop budding Manteca author
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Its all about Zigging and Zagging through the horse alphabet a hardcover book retired Manteca school teacher Diane Stellhorn, afflicted with MS, wrote with just one finger on her iPad from her hospital bed. - photo by GLENN KAHL/The Bulletin

Diane Stellhorn is an inspiration.

She’s written a book with only one finger while bed ridden with muscular dystrophy (MS) for the past two years. The retired elementary school teacher accomplished that fete by staying focused on the positive in life.

 “I had to do something or I would have lost my sanity being here in bed every day,” she said.

The new author was busy this past week going over the colorful hardcover proof copy of her soon-to-be published first edition.

Stellhorn said she has always been involved in some form of sporting competition as a teen and later in life including swimming, skiing, riding, and tennis. 

“It was that spirit that drove me to finish my writing project,” she said.  “I had to learn how to use my iPad, use it to research horse facts, photos and how to write in book format.”

She said her writing and her chemo (Retoxin) for the MS has been her reprieve for her situation.

Christos Arvanitis at Doctors Hospital of Manteca learned of her courageous effort to write for publication with seemingly insurmountable challenges and her intent to author a companion book on dogs.  He contacted a social worker and asked she be given the opportunity to add a Dragon – speech to print – software to her new iPad that replaced an earlier Apple model.

His request was soon honored and Dragon has now been added to her resources.

The idea for the book came out of her second and third grade classrooms where she had her students use their imaginations to follow the alphabet with 26-page books for their special projects. 

“I had alphabet units to teach and they really enjoyed doing it – creating their own books,” she recalled.

She has worked on her book most every day in her room with three other ladies until she tires.  She also plays poker on line just for fun.

Stellhorn has done all the research on how to design the book and does all her own editing on her iPad.

A longtime elementary teacher, Stellhorn –has lived in Manteca for some 50 years. She had horses of her own on a eight plus acre parcel near South Manteca Road and Division Avenue where she and her husband raised their two sons. 

She had grown up in the Berkeley Hills with her brother Paul – now a general contractor – and her sister Linda Hager who resides in Squaw Valley.  A grad of Berkeley High School, she went on to San Jose State University for her BA and to Hayward State for her teaching credential.

As a young child, she played with plastic horses, not dolls.  The family home in Oakland was ¾ of a mile above the Claremont Hotel – the scene of a disastrous wild fire that destroyed countless homes years ago.  Her parents lost their home in the flames. 

When she came to Manteca as a new teacher, she became a swim team coach for the Recreation Department and the Manteca Dolphins Swim Team. 

Her first teaching job, however, was in Pleasant Hill at the Mt. Diablo School District instructing a fourth grade classroom.  In the Manteca Unified School District, she has taught at Nile Garden, Lathrop, French Camp and Golden West Elementary schools – from kindergarten through the fourth grade.

Diane’s passion for horses began early in life and continues to this day. 

She recalls her dad taking his three kids on horseback camping trips every year that covered some 10 miles in the saddle. 

“We would pack in from Squaw Valley finally getting to the campsite at Diamond Crossing hours later.  We would stay at that campsite for the whole week while enjoying fishing and hunting together,” she recalled.

She said her mom, Charlotte, was not allowed to come along because they didn’t want a white table cloth at their campsite – she was fine with that.” 

When she and her husband settled in the rural area of southernmost Manteca, her dad designed their home on 8 ½ acres of a cornfield complete with a riding area, and pasture fences to hold her two horses “Sheba” and “Starfire.”  They were half Arabs and Saddle Bred horses.  They would also offer their acreage to put other horses out to pasture.

Diane has joined the Independent Book Publishers Association that is having a big convention soon in San Francisco. 

She noted that her son Robert helped her buy her new iPad last year, adding to the few funds she had already been able to put away for the purchase.

She voiced her appreciation to several of her longtime teacher friends who have made a point to go by the Manteca Care & Rehab on Eastwood Avenue to visit her in her room.

Now she hopes to make her “Zigging and Zagging” available on Amazon and hopefully at the Doctors Hospital Gift Shop.