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Still going strong at 103 years
Bianca Jacklich: A century plus of living life to fullest
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Farm wife, longtime community supporter, Bianca Jacklich is ready for her weekly Manteca Soroptimist meeting to get underway last Tuesday. - photo by GLENN KAHL

She’s a spunky 103-year-old who still speaks her mind on just about any subject under the sun, with a dynamic and penetrating personality. 

A native of Italy, a longtime resident of Oakland who later cut her teeth on a cattle and farming operation in Manteca, Bianca Jacklich has the strong spirit of a woman decades younger.

Bianca, or “Jackie” to her friends, has called Manteca home for some 70 years. She is set to blow out a forest fire of birthday candles on her cake this Thursday surrounded by her large family. 

 She is a charter member of the Manteca Soroptimist Club where its members have been talking up her upcoming birthday for months. She rarely misses their weekly luncheons at the Rendezvous Room on North Main Street.

She was introduced to the Soroptimist service club by the late Evelyn Allen who owned Allen’s Jewelry Store in downtown Manteca.  Jacklich said she was one of her best customers buying gifts for her daughters and granddaughters.

Bianca still lives by herself in rural Manteca with her daughters’ homes nearby.  The girls or their children or grandchildren bring lunch and dinner to her every day. She makes her own breakfast of eggs, bacon, fruit and toast.  And, she faithfully reads two newspapers at the kitchen table each morning and later often works her garden on her hands and knees outside her back door.

She was born in Lucca, Italy April 6, 1909 as Bianca Anita Maria Mariani. It is the same town where her parents, her older brother Victor, and her younger brother Theodore were also born.  Following Theodore’s birth, Bianca’s dad Eugenio and a friend Gino traveled to the U.S. West Coast leaving his family in their native country until he could save enough money to send for them four years later.

She sailed to America in 1913

Bianca was only four years old when she and her mother, Tranquilla, and her siblings boarded the steamship S.S. Taormina and sailed for America.  The ship docked at Ellis Island in New York on May 20, 1913. They then made the cross country trip to join Eugenio in Oakland.

On March 19, 1914 Bianca’s sister Ann Marie was born and became the family’s first U.S. citizen in their new homeland in California.

Both parents needed to work to make ends meet. The children spent their weekdays at the St. Vincent Day Care Home in Oakland where Bianca developed fond memories of the Holy Family Sisters who cared for her and her siblings.  With the tutelage of the nuns the children were soon reading, writing and speaking English proficiently.

All of those in Manteca who have come to love and to know Bianca and appreciate how she has often been able to control a situation without question might chuckle at the how she got her way in reading in bed as a child.  Her bedroom had a large window facing the street. 

She was quick to realize that she could secretly read books in her bed at night by the street light that shone through her window after her mother told her, “Lights out!”

Saturdays were still a work day for most people in the early 20th century.  Bianca would commute with her mother by train and ferry boat to San Francisco where her mother worked in a cigar-making factory. 

The women workers used bowls of water to soften the tobacco leaves as they hand-rolled the cigars.  They would pay Bianca nickels to bring them fresh bowls of water and she used those nickels to go to the movie theater and watch silent films – all the time eating popcorn, peanuts and candy with her friends.

As a young girl Bianca attended Prescott Junior High School in Oakland and graduated as valedictorian of her class.  She moved on to Oakland High School until the 10th grade when her mother convinced her to attend Heald Business College.

Her first job involved dictation

Her first job just out of school involved taking dictation, weighing trucks loaded with scrap metal on large scales before and after they left with their loads.  Bianca’s next job was writing legal descriptions by longhand for title insurance policies, working next to her “stern old boss” who also answered the company’s only telephone.

Soon after she was hired at that job she remembers a young Portuguese man who began calling on the telephone and asking her to go out on a date with him.  When she asked him to stop calling, he persisted with cards, flowers and boxes of chocolates.

Her boss would have none of it, and included a “pink slip” in her next paycheck that was her last.

Bianca also worked at Cochran and Celli Chevrolet in Oakland processing paperwork for new car sales.  She said she enjoyed that job and continued to work there until after she married Frank Jacklich.

She first spotted her future husband at a birthday party in Hayward for a family friend.  Sitting in the home’s basement entertainment room she watched a group of young men making fools of themselves – all but one.

As she rode home with a friend after the party she queried, “Did you see the quiet guy at the party?  I am going to marry him some day,” she quipped.

Bianca played hard to get when Frank asked her out for their first date, saying she already had plans. She lied.  The next Thursday night he called and asked her to go to his sister’s wedding party with him that evening.

She covered the phone and yelled to her mother, “Frank asked me out on a date.  Don’t say no, because I am going.”  Her mother liked the young man and approved.

Their Yosemite honeymoon took them through Manteca

It was a brief courtship that ended in a wedding on May 10 in 1928.  It was a small family ceremony held after Mass on a Thursday morning at St. Joseph’s Portuguese Church in Oakland with a honeymoon that took them through Manteca on their way to Yosemite National Park.

When they got into the park there were no rooms at the Ahwahnee Hotel, it was all sold out.  They had to spend the night on cots in a tent. She remembers nearly freezing to death it was so cold.  The next night a room at the Ahwahnee opened up costing them $25.

Still living in Oakland, Frank and Bianca “decided” to have four children – two boys and two girls.  Frank Jr. was born January 24, 1930; Joanne came along on April 27, 1931.  The other two would come later giving Bianca a break because being pregnant was difficult for her.

After briefly renting their first home, they bought a house in a new neighborhood in Oakland near many other young families.  Bianca focused on one of her many goals in life as the neighborhood needed an elementary school.

By the time Frankie reached kindergarten her dream of a new school was realized after much lobbying on her part and leading her neighbors.  Bianca was and remains to this day a charter member and past president of the Redwood Heights elementary School in Oakland.

Frank’s dream was to become a prize fighter. He was also involved in various other business ventures and investments.  His mother disapproved of his boxing dream. Frank instead turned to help train future heavyweight boxing champion Max Baer and became one of his managers in 1930.

Over the next five years Frank and his brother Tony traveled all over the U.S. with Baer and earned 15 percent of the net proceeds from each of his contests in the ring.  Frank would call Bianca from the St. Francis Hotel in San Francisco and ask her to join him and his brother at parties when they were in the Bay Area.

She recalls putting on an evening gown and taking Frank Jr. on a ferry across the bay from Oakland.  At the hotel she would pay the hat check girl to watch her son while she and her husband had a couple of dances together.

Family buys 640 acres in Manteca in 1930s

Frank, Bianca and brother Tony purchased 640 acres of land from the Perrin Family in the mid-1930s.  From that point on Frank focused on farming and raising cattle in Manteca.  It was a commute to and from their Oakland home for some seven years with him being home only on weekends.

Frank became tired of the commute and missed his family, besides Bianca laid down her ultimatum as only Bianca can do so well. 

If she did not move to Manteca, he would not come home, she said.   But, since the ranch house in Manteca had no indoor toilet and only an outhouse, she refused to move.  Bianca told Frank that she would not move unless he installed indoor plumbing – he agreed.

Their second daughter Victoria was born December 4, 1939 and their third daughter Jane came along on July 7, 1942.  Thirteen months after Jane was born and after Frankie had finished the sixth grade at Redwood Elementary School, the Jacklich family finally moved to Manteca.

In that same year the family was recognized by the federal government for supporting the war effort and was awarded a Certificate of Farm Service by the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture.

Also during World War II, Bianca served in the Women’s Auxiliary and visited wounded soldiers at Bay Area hospitals and sent letters and gifts to the troops overseas.  After the war she boxed up her good clothes and shipped them to those in need in her native Italy.

In Manteca she served as a member of the Veritas Grammar School Mothers’ Club and was elected to the Board of Trustees of the Manteca School District for 15 years.  Serving as trustees on the board alongside her were the senior Arnold Rothlin, Gus Schmiedt, Larry Aksland and Holmes Beale.

In March of 1955 son Frank died of Hodgeskins Disease in his senior year in high school.  To honor his memory the family donated a stained glass window depicting St. Michael the Archangel that is still part of the church building.

While living in Oakland Bianca had actively participated in fundraising for the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis (polio) established under the presidency of Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

Over the years on their Manteca ranch, Bianca continued to perform accounting and bookkeeping for the couple’s cattle and farming operations.  She created the Jacklich Ranch advertising slogan: “Our heifers are outstanding in their field!”

Staying more than busy on the home front, Bianca served as chairwoman for the March of Dimes, a Catechism teacher and a devoted mom who drove her children to 4-H Club activities, piano and swimming lessons.

Bought homes in Bay Area in 1960s and had them moved to valley by barge

At an early age she learned how to crochet needle point and mend clothing.  Over the span of time she sewed and mended clothing and made many formal dresses and costumes for her children and grandchildren.  Beginning in 1954 and over a period of 11 years Frank and Bianca were blessed with seven grandchildren.

In the ‘60s the couple bought several completely constructed homes in the Bay Area and had them transported by barge to the Port of Stockton for themselves and for their three daughters.

They were trucked from Stockton to their land on West Ripon Road where they were set down on new foundations.  After the new homes were in place Frank and Bianca and daughters Joanne and Vicki moved into their new abodes.  The old home place on Perrin Avenue was sold to the Frank Machado family. 

Beginning in 1989 Bianca and Frank saw the addition of eight great-grandchildren to the family over an eight year period.  December of 1997 Frank passed away after nearly 70 years of marriage – a partnership that saw her preparing three meals a day.  On holidays she also prepared and served her choice recipes for her extended family as well.

Ten years ago Bianca finally surrendered her driver’s license.  Daughter Joanne takes her to her weekly Soroptimist Club meetings and daughter Jane faithfully drives her to attend weekly Mass at St. Anthony’s Catholic Church.

Bianca’s slogan for the family ranch mirrors her own life.  She is and has been an “outstanding” woman in her own “field” as wife, mother, grandmother, business woman, cattle rancher, farmer, community supporter and a philanthropist in her own right who has served as a model for the countless many she has touched.

Family members have lauded her for remaining strong and resilient until this day having gone through family deaths and being involved in a devastating head-on collision on South Manteca Road.  Both she and her husband Frank were critically injured in the crash.