When George and Evelyn Stein pulled their ’39 Plymouth coupe into Tracy in September 1946, they couldn’t have imagined that they’d dedicate decades of their lives to the town’s school district. Nor did they imagine that George would work at H.J. Heinz Co.’s Tracy factory during a revolutionary turning point in tomato production, or that they would watch the podunk agricultural town swell into a 78,000-population Bay Area suburb.
One thing they did know, immediately, was that they were home.
The couple moved to Tracy so George could take a job at Heinz. As an agricultural representative, he worked with tomato growers as far north as Colusa County and as far south as Kern County. During his 43 years with Heinz, George saw tomato production advance from handpicked to machine-picked tomatoes.
Evelyn took a job as a kindergarten teacher at Central School in 1963, when there were only a few kindergarten classes in town. In 29 years, she taught hundreds of young students in the same classroom at Central, and she boasts that she never tired.
“When you’re around little ones, you don’t have time to be tired,” Evelyn said with a laugh.
Meanwhile, George served on Tracy school boards for 25 years, first on the elementary board and then as a high school trustee. He helped make decisions that laid the foundation for several of the district’s schools.
The couple’s contribution to education in Tracy will live on through the district’s second continuation school, named George and Evelyn Stein School. The school site on 10th Street now houses Duncan-Russell High School, but it will reopen as Stein School in the fall.
“We hope good, solid education will take part there,” George said.
Our Town: What do you miss most about old-town Tracy
George and Evelyn Stein: The ability of going to the bank, the post office and the grocery store and seeing people we knew, being recognized and visiting. Now, with the size of Tracy, we know and recognize very few. Also we notice a tremendous increase in traffic and the resulting problems.
OT: George, since you served three years on the elementary school district board and 22 years on the high school board, what do you think of Tracy Unified School District today, now with about 16,500 students
George: I feel that TUSD has a most competent school board and a most dynamic superintendent, Jim Franco. I wish they could offer more vocational-orientated courses. I am most favorably impressed with the Tracy High agricultural department.
OT: Evelyn, what are you most proud of when you look back on the 29 years you spent as a kindergarten teacher at Central School
Evelyn: Few children had attended preschool before enrolling in kindergarten when I was teaching — so kindergarten was a traumatic experience for them. I tried to make the transition from home to school easier by scheduling individual appointments for each child and his or her parents the week before school started.
The child was able to explore the various work centers and draw a picture that was put up in the classroom. I answered parents’ questions and explained my year’s program to them. It eliminated most of the first-day tears.
When I started teaching, all the playground equipment was on blacktop. The only dirt was out of bounds, because it didn’t belong to the school district. The other kindergarten teacher, Lorna Boothroyd, and I went to a school board meeting and asked the board if we could put playground equipment on West Side Irrigation property. The request was granted.
Upon my retirement, the parent-teacher association placed a sign that read, “Stein-Boothroyd Playground.”
George: Evelyn changed the lives of many young people. That was a great satisfaction to her and our family.
OT: Do you have any advice for teachers in today’s education system
Evelyn: No. Each teacher must get to know his or her own class and adjust his or her teaching to their needs.
OT: George, what’s the most important thing you learned about tomatoes during your 43 years with Heinz
George: They smell good while being processed. The tomato-ketchup odor that wafted over Tracy during tomato-processing season was delicious and was Tracy’s hallmark. Tomato growers are a fine and courageous group of individuals.
OT: You’ve said, “Tomatoes aren’t what they used to be.” How have they changed
George: Tomato varieties now are completely different from the ones I worked with. Today, processing tomato varieties are all hybrids, developed for higher solids, tougher skins and disease resistance. I think that the flavor of the raw processing tomato has suffered.
OT: How did you see Heinz change while you were there
George: I was completely disillusioned and disappointed when the decision was made to close the Heinz Tracy factory. As with most large corporations, I feel that Heinz has lost some of its personal touch with communities and the growers who produce the raw commodities they utilize as they have become more globally orientated.
OT: How have you two spent your retirement
George: I became an active member of the Tracy Sunrise Rotary Club, where I was club secretary for about 20 years. I enjoy the companionship of my wife, Evelyn; the company of our large orange tabby cat, Red Boy; and the close contacts with our daughter Russ, her husband, Mike Robinson, and our grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
I also enjoy collecting Heinz memorabilia, and I am an active member in the Golden State Red Wing Collectors Society. Retirement has been good to me.
Also, every Tuesday morning, my friend Marvin Walth, another Heinz retiree, and I meet for coffee and a muffin. We’ve done that for many, many years now.
Evelyn: Enjoying our family and watching our grandchildren and great-grandchildren grow up. Also, I enjoy collecting Red Wing art pottery-Nokomis glaze.
OT: What’s kept you in Tracy
George: My resistance to change and also the close proximity of our daughter and her family. It’s been great being able to watch them grow up, and now our four great-grandchildren.
Evelyn: My husband would not move.
In the Spotlight is a weekly profile in Our Town. This week’s interviewer was reporter Danielle MacMurchy. To nominate someone to be In the Spotlight, call 830-4201, or e-mail email@example.com.