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Nelda and Bill Whiteside in their rural Manteca living room this week with their trusted hunting dog, Bridget a French Brittany. - photo by GLENN KAHL/The Bulletin

Bill Whiteside is among the many that have helped Manteca prosper during its first 100 years.

Whiteside, known for his humor, is nearly 80. He is a former Nile Garden Elementary School principal, U.S. Air Force refueling crew member and instructor and retired longtime Manteca Unified school administrator.

He is also a past president and longtime member of the Manteca Rotary Club,   His dedication to Rotary is deep seated with the organization’s fight to eradicate polio worldwide.  Whiteside had two cousins stricken with the disease years ago in Southern California – a father and his son – when there was little chance of survival.  Tom McWhirter passed away from polio but his son David recovered and lived a full life but had lifelong damage to a leg.  

His favorite elementary teacher was a nun who taught him in the fifth grade in the Silver Lake area of Los Angeles, Sister Mary Calitis taught at the St. Francis of Assis Catholic School.  

“She was pretty much an inspiration for me in life,” Whiteside said Friday from his favorite chair in his Austin Road home with his French Brittany hunting dog on his lap.  “Everything about her was special from her compassion for children to her strict rules to seeing that we were learning.”

Bill and a close buddy Richard Cappola had brought a 12-inch snake into the classroom that the nun and the other kids had never seen and they hadn’t told anyone they had it, he recalled.  During the noon recess they placed the snake in their teacher’s pencil drawer next to her desk and closed the drawer tightly so that it couldn’t get out.

When the sister came back into the classroom, she stepped up on the platform under her desk and opened that pencil drawer with the snake immediately wrapping itself around her wrist. In a stern voice she said, “Richard William! How did this snake get in this pencil drawer?”    

Young Whiteside knew then and there that he had been found out and was in trouble.  But how did she know it was him? he later asked.

“Take the snake to Father Stevens (the principal) and explain to him how this snake got in this drawer,” she ordered.  The penance the priest administered was that the two boys would be the altar boys at the daily 6 a.m. Mass in the church for the next two months. 

“We didn’t do it to be mean,” Whiteside said. “We just liked her!”

From that fifth grade nun, he apparently developed his life-long philosophy toward children that he used to tell his teachers when he became a school principal: “Be friendly, fair and firm.”

He noted that it was “circumstance” that pretty much directed his life through high school and into the Air Force to become an instructor and a chance meeting with his future wife Nelda.

He returned to college and eventually obtained his teaching credential and later his Master’s degree. He served as principal at multiple elementary schools before becoming an administrator in the Manteca Unified School District that would include being an assistant superintendent of schools for human resources. 

He was 17 when he joined the Air Force and went through his basic training at Parks Air Force Base and was shipped off to Shepherd AFB in Wichita Falls, Texas for advanced flight training and in the operation of inflight refueling booms from KC-97four-engine tankers.  He would be assigned to the 93rd Air Refueling Squadron at Castle Air Force Base where he would refuel primarily B-47 and B-52 bombers, a part of the Strategic Air Command (SAC).  


Fresno fire led to date

with his future wife

He was assigned to a refueling instructor school at Randolph Air Force Base to become an instructor on in-flight refueling boom operations. The SAC designation was altered to Air Training Command #4397 Combat Training Squadron back at Castle in the Central Valley.  

One evening in June of 1956 he and his buddies were driving off base, north on Highway 99 when they witnessed a furniture store on fire in Fresno and just happened to notice two girls watching the blaze.  Wanting to be of help the two airmen stopped to talk to the girls. One happened to be Whiteside’s future bride Nelda and they later went on a double date as a result.  It was about a month later that he was reassigned to Randolph Air Force Base where he stayed for some 11 months. He came to terms that there had to be more in life than just the military and thought about teaching while he and Nelda exchanged countless letters. 

Whiteside was then transferred to Mather AFB in Sacramento for parachute training, introduction to the altitude chamber and he went through ejection seat training and on to Yokota AFB and the 421st Air Refueling Squadron flying in four engine KB50J aircraft.  Their primary mission was to refuel reconnaissance aircraft in Southeast Asia that would fly at an altitude of 30,000 feet.

He spent 19 months in Japan and then to Korea, now Osan, in South Korea and then to Okinawa, the Philippines and Bangkok, Thailand.  Flying near North Korea was as dangerous then as it is now, he said.  The 38th parallel could easily be recognized from the air and 100 miles out, because the lights on the ground would disappear north of the demarcation line, he recalled after completing some 2,500 hours of flight time. 

When Whiteside returned to the states, Nelda had graduated from Turlock High School. They were married a year later when she was a freshman at Fresno State.  They were married in 1960 In Zephyr Cove on the shores of Lake Tahoe after he had lived with his mother for a year in Los Angeles after getting out of the Air Force and transferred to Fresno State where Nelda was in a teachers’ program,

Nelda was soon teaching her own third grade in Fresno City Schools and had completed all but one course in the Special Education program. She had been told by an administrator there to hold off before committing to Special Ed and see if she could get a regular classroom assignment over the many applying before finishing her last class for that major.  They both spent five years in Fresno and moved to Lemoore where Bill would serve as a principal at his first elementary school.

After Nelda taught for three years in her regular classroom, she found that their first daughter Sherry was on the way. She stayed at home for two years she later returned to the classroom for another two year teaching stint. 

Whiteside continued his education using the G.I. Bill to earn his Master’s Degree in 1969. He remained in Fresno temporarily until moving to Manteca in 1972.  

Daughter Sherry was then in the fourth grade and Nelda’s parents had moved to Modesto.  A Manteca principal position had opened up and Superintendent Richard Cherry interviewed Whiteside in a phone call to at the couple’s new San Diego residence.  They had just built a new home and had lived in it for only a month when the offer came from Manteca.  The house they were in was just perfect they agreed, even having a butter warmer in the door of the refrigerator.  A Navy commander serving as an aviator paid the asking price and it was sold quickly, Whiteside said. 

Whiteside noted that homes were scarce in Manteca then and they could not locate one for their family.  He talked to a Manteca real-estate salesman Jim Jacobs on the phone and told him they needed a house immediately with a refrigerator.  Within 45 minutes Jacobs called back and told Whiteside he had a house for them – gave him the address – and said the keys would be in the mailbox.   It was a Raymus home just north of the hospital campus and the deal was made over the phone. 

Whiteside went to work as principal of Nile Garden School in 1972 where he would be the administrator until 1986 when he would be reassigned to the MUSD district office as director of Special Services. He noted his staff at Nile was “so well purposed, so driven, so honest to the community and to each other.”


Nile Garden earned

California Distinguished

School Award under

Whiteside’s leadership

It wasn’t long before his school won the California Distinguished School Award when Bill Honig was serving as the State of California Superintendent of Schools. 

“It’s so rewarding today to see kids who are now years later grown and successful in life and as leaders in the community,” Whiteside said.  They moved into their current home on Austin Road in 1973 when daughter Karen was in the fourth grade and their other daughter Sherry was a freshman at East Union High School.  

Nelda got a teaching job at Golden West School with Principal Lloyd Wofford where she was hoping for a primary grade but was given a fifth grade instead.  Wofford told her to hold off for two weeks in the fifth-grade spot and things would likely change and they did with the formation of a second-third grade combination that was set up in the school library.  Shelves of library books separated the room in two with a separate class space on each side.  She retired in 1997 with her entire Manteca Unified tenure spent at Golden West. 

At home with their kids, they had the experience of having goats and unexpectedly went into the pig raising business with Richard Silveira and George Gomes to bring down the cost of animals for Ag students who couldn’t afford the going rate of $200 for a pig to show – reducing that to $52 each.

They had a pregnant sow in their rural back yard that gave birth to 12 piglets and she refused to nurse them, so the Whitesides had the babies in their laundry room where they fed them around the clock with baby bottles filled with milk – a real challenge they both agreed. 

Whiteside also served on the board of directors of the Manteca CAPS organization and became its president for two years.  He retired from the school district in 1998. He is enjoying retirement with his wife and their six grandchildren – all girls.  

“Manteca – it’s not the name – it’s the people who have made it to what it is today,” he said.  “We are truly grateful for those who have helped us along the way.”

Nelda interjected, “What’s hard is when you are out in public and don’t recognize the kids from your kindergarten classes of years past and their parents.”


To contact Glenn Kahl, email