Los Banos, CA. was to be my home for the next three years (1959-1962). Santa Cruz was a coastal city, a favorite vacation spot, ninety miles to the west. At the time, it never entered my mind that Santa Cruz would become my home from 1962 to now.
The principal of Los Banos High, Sam Beneditino, did not fit the stereotype for the position. He was not too busy being important to do important things. In 1959 all of the school’s new teachers were from out of state. Like me, they had never visited Los Banos, California before. We were all young and needed an open supportive hand. Sam saw his position as one created to help, not to judge.
My job was to teach junior and senior English. In that era the students were tracked into ‘college prep’ or ‘the others’. Often they were a mischievous bunch. On one occasion they stole a copy of a test, which was to be given on Monday. On Sunday they gathered together to plan how to use the test. They decided who among them would miss which questions to be less suspicious. Word leaked out about the plot. When they got the test on Monday, it was a different much harder test. When I attend class reunions, the actual original stolen test is always presented. To this day they still do not know how I got “wind” of the plot.
Perhaps the most important thing I learned in Los Banos was that rules occasionally need to be bent, even ignored. We operated with a strict tardy policy. Tardy students had to be issued permits to enter class. One of my students, Frank Enos, worked a night shift to help support his family. He could not get to my early class on time. I told him simply come directly to class. At the last reunion in 2017, he still remembered and with tears in his eyes, he thanked me.
Yes, I did move on. I applied for and received a teacher fellowship to the University of Oklahoma. After three years, I would be leaving Los Banos. During my time there I developed some skills. During the summer, I worked as the bookkeeper for a produce company. I did get the debits and credits in the correct column. I also sold World Book encyclopedias. Through my experience with World Book I learned to ask, “Mrs. Riley, did you know that a pig is smarter than a horse?” I also learned to convince women that they, not their husbands, were in charge and should make the decision to buy.
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