Longtime elementary school teacher Irma DeMichelis is something of an icon among Manteca educators.
She has taught 46 years in Manteca schools and four years in Banta and is now on a substitute list. That’s in addition to working a couple days a week in her daughter Elizabeth’s Modesto dental office.
“When we do the third-grade dental screening, she is there with me enjoying every minute of it,” Dr. DeMichalis said of her mom
Growing up on her parents, Airport Way farm that backed up to Sharpe Army Depot she has seen much of Manteca’s growth and cultural changes.
Born at home and the second of six children, she clearly remembers her early childhood when she was about 6 years old when the soldiers from Sharpe would march down the road and come to a halt near a large tree and mailbox in front of her family’s farm house and dairy before being shipped off to battle in World War II.
“My dad would run out to the road with bottles of cold water for the soldiers,” she said.
She said her dad would take dozens of milk cans to The Creamery in downtown Manteca and pick up the empties to be used for the next day’s milking at their dairy. That was her chance to tag along and get a strawberry milkshake.
“I was a strawberry girl,” she chuckled.
Her older sister Elsie started school first at the old Golden West School with many Manteca teachers and principals always gathering at her family home – possibly the reason she decided to become a teacher and a Business Major in college after attending both Lindbergh and Yosemite elementary schools.
Bus driver would
knock on her door
The school staff suggested her parents keep Irma home for a year until school buses were being put on the road. Once both sisters were taking the bus, the driver would go to their door and knock asking, “Are the girls going to school today?”
In the first grade of Mrs. Edna Schafer, Irma said she was the “only bus kid” in her class.
She also recalls an elementary school custodian they called “Shirk” who would tell her to get up on the table where he would throw her over his shoulder and take her to the cafeteria, announcing, “Anyone want a sack of potatoes?”
There was a “foil” collection in the schools in the early ‘40s for the benefit of the troops. Irma hopped right on the program. She’d watch smokers throw away their empty cigarette packs and she was right there to take out the foil and save it for the war effort. Irma was also able to buy a “War Bond” with change she had collected that also went to the defense of the country fighting against Germany and Japan.
Mrs. Helen Chandler was her second-grade teacher – a tall red head with long beads.
In the third grade she had Mrs. Owens where she learned cursive writing which is little taught today, she noted.
“Teachers would come into our room to talk to her and would look at me and finally took me into the office and put me to work on a duplicating machine,” she said. “School wasn’t a priority in my family, the dairy came first.”
In those years it was prestigious to be a teacher and that’s when she decided she had a passion for teaching over being a secretary. After the fourth grade all the students at Lindbergh were all the bus kids who had to go to Yosemite School.
“I missed Lindbergh, I was a chief there!” she said with a laugh.
Part of first graduating
class from Lincoln school
In the fifth grade her teacher was Stella Brockman and in the sixth it was Mr. David Callahan with Lavina Fulton being her teacher in the seventh grade. Mrs. Fulton was the sister of longtime fire chief Sam Hanna. That summer the Yosemite School burned down and the seventh and eighth grades were bused to Manteca High School until the new Lincoln School was completed.
Irma said she was in the first graduating class at Lincoln Elementary with 99 classmates from four classes. Mrs. Avis Paysen was both the principal and the eighth-grade teacher.
In that final year of elementary school, she won the Red Flanders Red Poppies art poster contest that honored veterans. She also remembers having to memorize the Preamble to the Constitution.
In high school she was focused on being the first in line to get tickets for the school rooters’ bus after the final bell rang for dismissal. She said she would set her chair on an angle toward the classroom door being first to reach the office where the tickets were available. After high school she took classes in secretarial with a Mrs. Lothrod where Felice Rodoni was the student teacher.
It was about 1950 when she first attended Modesto Junior College taking a secretarial business course when her parents took a trip to the Azores after two years at MJC. She was asked to care for her brothers and sisters and milk 40 to 50 cows a day at their Airport Way dairy where only 40 cows could fit in the barn.
Started teaching at
Banta near Tracy
Irma returned to school hoping to attend University of the Pacific in Stockton but was told her secretarial class units were not transferrable to a four-year college. A friend of a friend at the County Office of Education told her she could teach if she took six units of methods classes – she did and started teaching in 1959 at Banta School in Tracy and taught there for four years.
She said she wanted to get back to her home community of Manteca and went to see Manteca Elementary Schools Superintendent Neil Hafley. He placed her at Yosemite School under principal Helen McCann, teaching second grade.
She later moved on to Shasta School and taught under principal Bill Pinto with classes being at Lindbergh School temporarily because Shasta was still unfinished in its construction. She said she taught with Betty Wetteck and Mrs. Kathryn Overbo. Sally Williams served as the office secretary. Other teachers at Shasta in that period coming from Lindbergh School were Margaret Perry, Sylvia Shaefer, Kathryn Harmon, Emma Oliver, Evelyn Rice, Joann Carter, Lorraine Jacobsen and Edna Schafer who had been teaching on the stage at Lindbergh before moving to Shasta. Also, part of the auditorium at Lindbergh had been cordoned of to provide for a small nurses’ station, She remembered.
Irma said her physical classroom was actually taken out of service in 2009 when she retired after 50 years due to an expansion at the school.
She said once she had started teaching she couldn’t get enough of it and went on to teach kindergarten and special needs children as a substitute teacher.
Irma and her daughter are faithful fans of the Golden State Warriors and the Pacific Tigers at UOP. Her husband John passed away in 2004.
To contact Glenn Kahl, email email@example.com.