photo 3 (3)She was from an 8th grade class of three girls and one boy. She married the boy.

Mary came to San Dieguito in 1936 along with the three other members of her junior high class. They biked to a makeshift campus made up of tents, an elementary school, and a church across the way.

She was one of the true founding members of San Dieguito, arriving to school at a time when teachers drove school buses and more people rode bikes to school than drove.

I met Mary for lunch at a cafe in Solana Beach, and we talked while over the patio speakers Frank Sinatra crooned “Cheek to Cheek” and Martha Tilton sang “Please be Kind.” I don’t know if she chose the place for the ambiance, but it fit perfectly her reminiscences about life at San Dieguito between the wars.

As we talked, Mary described the bonfires before the big games, “which meant Vista,” she explained to me with an easy smile. She told me about working in the student store, a thriving enterprise, loving to read, and playing grass hockey on one of the fields around campus.

old sda

Mary was a freshman when students chose the school colors and mascot, and was friends with one of the students who helped to write the school song. She saw campus built amid fields of tomatoes, potatoes, and flowers, and was one of the first to walk the breezeways students still walk today.

Her eyes sparkled as she described what it was like to step onto a brand new campus, built as one of FDR’s public works projects. The buildings were new and filled with the latest 1930s technology. Once the construction was done, students at San Dieguito loved their sparkling new campus.

photo 2 (6)We laughed as we talked about the things that have stayed the same over the past eight decades: the timeless joy of going to the beach just blocks away (“though there weren’t the surfers there are today,” she explained, “and the paddle boarding we had was something I wanted no part of”) and spending time with friends, as well as the many things that have changed.

We talked too about the changes Mary saw between the time she graduated in 1940 and the time, eight years later, when she came back to San Dieguito to teach English. The school grew in those eight post-war years and she returned to a campus alive with learning and more than double the number of students.

Students and faculty alike were shocked that fall of 1948 when a science teacher arrived at her customary 6:00 am and saw flames rising from the school bus yard at the top of the hill. By the time firefighters arrived, the buses were destroyed, and students worried about how they would get to campus. In an example of the kindness of others and the supportive nature of education, school districts from as far away as Los Angeles offered buses until San Dieguito could replace theirs, and school could continue sooner than anyone expected.

photo 5 (8)On campus, Mary described the feeling of “closeness” that defined her time at San Dieguito, both as a student and as a teacher. She told me about Mr. Main, her principal, who she knew cared so much about students, even if he had some dust ups with teachers, and her smile brightened as she described some of her favorite teachers, including Mr. Harris, who also drove a school bus.

Before I let her go, I asked Mary what advice she would give a young person starting her first year at San Dieguito today. She thought about it, nodded, and said: “Take things in stride. Be a good listener. Befriend those off by themselves.” She paused, thinking about my theoretical young girl and perhaps imagining herself in 1936. “Take a look around,” she said finally, “and make up your own mind. That’s me.”

Mary is a San Dieguito treasure, and just one of thousands of stories from our first eighty years. As that first principal described, San Dieguito is “more than a group of school buildings.” San Dieguito is more than a campus or curriculum; it is the people who share in, and are, its history.

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