Eunice Witt 1912-2013
Once again we have come together as a community to celebrate the life of one of our neighbors, this time for Eunice Ethel Witt. She was a life-long teacher even though she technically retired in 1984 at “only” 72.
Life for Eunice Bell started in Nez Perce, Idaho as the sixth of seven children born to a grain farmer. The dark, rich soil was good to David Bell, and he and his wife, Minnie Mae, were the first in the area to have running water inside the house and linoleum on the floors.
When the California Liberty Fair was held in Los Angeles in 1918, the Bell family traveled with another couple from their Idaho home to visit. David Bell was so impressed with the climate, and the amount of agriculture in the area, they returned to Nez Perce intent on moving. In 1920 they relocated to the Fresno-Reedley area, moving near some long-time friends, the McCahill family.
A ranch near Poplar ultimately became their home and was lovingly known as “The Big House.” Even without pictures of the home, one can just see it. Twenty foot ceilings, a large porch all the way around, palm trees in the yard, and an orchard and a garden nearby providing a wide variety of fruit and vegetables for their growing family.
Eunice began her relationship with education in Nez Perce, but entered the third grade in Poplar, then high school in Porterville, also studying at Porterville College. At that time PC occupied the northwest corner of the high school campus, in what is today known as the Science Wing.
The young Miss Bell worked in the local canneries during the summer months, and after her time at PC, became Dr. P.H. McKay’s dental assistant for several years.
In 1937 she married Walter Witt, who she met at Porterville High. They were married on May 1, even though that was opening day of fly fishing season. This was the only time he was known to have missed opening day. Walter soon imparted a love for fly fishing to his bride, and they hiked all over the Sierra’s chasing the elusive trout. Of course, steep descents and resident rattlesnakes were a part of the adventure, but this didn’t faze her.
Carmen came to the family in 1942, and Delores joined them in 1944.
In 1945 or 1946 — the girls were a bit vague on this — Grandpa Wallace handed over the cattle ranch, which is still in the family. This is at the southwest corner of Globe and Pleasant Oak, 150 yards south of the Lower Globe bridge. A family home was constructed on a knoll beside the road, with the skills and talent of Walt Witt the driving force. Knotty Pine for the kitchen and Philippine mahogany for the living room were purchased from Eunice’s sister Babe and her husband Bill, who owned a lumber yard in Porterville. The Redwood was purchased from Bud Lyman who had a mill in Springville. Eunice claimed she held up one end of every board in the building, while Walt nailed into place.
In the early 1950’s Eunice began taking night school classes to get a teaching credential, along with summer classes in Bakersfield and Fresno. Her first contract was at Pleasant View, which was a pretty long drive from home. She soon moved to Alta Vista School, where she taught kindergarten, PE and Home Economics.
The brightest jewel in her crown was being both teacher and principal at Citrus South Tule School. This little school is even today one of the few remaining autonomous schools in Tulare County. Eunice taught fourth, fifth and sixth grades, as well as serving as the principal and district superintendent.
To say she was a strong disciplinarian would be soft-selling the situation. She played volleyball, pitched softball and refereed basketball, dealing with headstrong children in an iron-fist manner. Yet, she was much loved by her students, even the toughest ones. She knew how much children need control even if the child doesn’t appreciate the discipline.
In 1984 she retired from the daily grind of teaching, but continued for years to tutor both math and reading in her home. She also taught English to Hmong students who came up from Porterville.
In 2007 Eunice moved to Spokane to be nearer her girls, Carmen and Delores. But, she didn’t just sit in a rocker and retire. Yellowstone, Seattle, Whidby Island, a jet boat trip up the Snake River in Idaho were all retirement destinations. She also fed the deer during the snowy times, watched the squirrels and birds feed, kept an eye on the mules and horses across the road, weeded flower beds, helped can tomato soup, grape juice and applesauce.
One of her greatest pleasures was watching Laker games on grandson Michael’s huge TV screen. She would condescend to watching games on smaller TV sets, but nothing was better than a game on the big screen.
Eunice went to her reward on Dec. 3, 2012, a short 63 days from her 101st birthday. She had two daughters, nine grandchildren, and thirty-five great and great-great grandchildren.
As described by her children, she was the “Ultimate Grandma.”
I knew her as Delores’s mother, for we started first grade together at Springville School. When I moved home after my military duty, I served on the school board at Citrus South Tule. My oldest son, Ryan, was in first grade when I arrived early for a meeting one night.
Eunice looked at me and said, “Brent, you’re going to have to give up on this cloning.”
I looked at her with blank expression. She explained that she had known me when I was Ryan’s age, but she saw my son exhibiting characteristics I displayed when I was that age.
She continued, “You don’t do those things now, nor have you done them for 30 years. There’s no way Ryan could have observed you doing those things.”
Laughing loudly, she repeated, “You’ve just gotta stop this cloning.”
Brent Gill lives in Springville. His “Daunt to Dillonwood” column appears regularly in The Porterville Recorder. If you enjoyed this column, follow my blog at: http://foothillwriter.blogspot.com.