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Ida May Sanders – O’Connor Woods


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O’Connor Woods resident Ida May Sanders Jay, 86, was born into an unusual family.  Her father, born in 1875, grew up with Native Americans, his own father being a Methodist circuit rider.  Her mother was 21 years his junior; once they were married, they moved to California in 1919. Her older sister had spina bifida and was, as a result, paraplegic, living in a time when handicapped people were treated as freaks.

“I had my sister who people shied away [from], my father who everybody thought was my grandfather — he was my father — and my mother, and she had cancer most of the time I was growing up, so I kind of was a caregiver very early in life,” Jay said.

Jay’s mother had cancer when she was 10, and ever since then, the family was apprehensive and fearful for her diagnosis each time she went to the doctor.  She was diagnosed with cancer two more times and passed away when Jay was in high school, the most difficult emotional time period of Jay’s entire life.

Jay was married to the love of her life for 63 years before he passed away two years ago.  The couple had a total of four sons together, and now Jay has 13 grandchildren and 14 great-grandchildren and another baby expected in July.

The oldest two of her boys are twins, and their birth had amusing circumstances.

“My husband kept saying you’re going to have twins, and the doctor kept saying, ‘Tell your husband to be content with one baby because that’s what people usually have,’” Jay said.  “At seven months, I had these two beautiful boys and the doctor was shocked… That was one of the most wonderful times of my life. The birth of my twins.”

Elementary school for Jay was full of music, dancing and hands-on activities, like building pueblos.  Nobody ever wanted to stay home because school was wonderful, even if they were flunking reading and spelling by the ninth grade.

“They didn’t teach any phonics at all!  It was look-see.  You look at the word and you see the shape of the word and then you just memorized it.  That shape is ‘she’, and it had no relation to ‘he,’” Jay said.  “Reading was a mystery… and they withheld the code from us.”

After the students took the Iowa State Achievement test and parents found out that they had a 2nd-grade reading ability and a 3rd-grade spelling ability — math was grade level — they furiously ousted the superintendent of school and all the other high-level officials.  Once the shcool implemented remedial reading and writing programs, the students were able to make up for what they had never been taught.

“We learned late in life,” Jay said, “but we learned fast when we were given the code.”

As a K-8 educational resource specialist herself, Jay made it a point to never withhold the magical code from her students and never barred them from learning.  She especially loved teaching kindergarten, a reflection of her own elementary years.

“We had so much fun, and now I know they don’t have as much fun in kindergarten,” Jay said.  “We danced and sang and painted, [a] grand time.  You have to have some fun.  And besides that, when kids have a lot of experiences, when they do start learning to read, they read a lot better and faster.”

Jay also lived through WWII as a child, where she and other kids collected items every week to bring to school to support the war effort.

“It might be rubber, like rubber bands [or] rubber tires,” Jay said.  “And then the next week it might be paper. Golly, that was always a big thing.  And then it would be grease.  Different things like that.”

Growing up in Burbank, Jay witnessed everyone contribute to the war for their country.  Most of her classmates’ fathers were involved, working for the defense industry; the Lockheed factory, which manufactured a significant number of aircraft for the war, was located in Burbank, after all.

“The ladies would make quilts and stuff… Mother was down at Red Cross rolling bandages,” Jay said.  “My sister — she was in high school and she was writing for the GI’s.  We were really united.  People loved each other more… That is one of the sad things, that we are so divided now.”

However, not everybody was able to participate in the harmony of the country.  When President FDR passed Executive Order 9066, the Japanese-American citizens suffered in the midst of their own communities.

There were many Japanese kids in Jay’s school, since the agricultural San Fernando Valley relied on the farming of the Japanese.  She witnessed these people lose their property and have as little time as four days to sell their belongings, and she saw how other people took advantage of their helplessness.

“That was a terrible thing,” Jay said.  “We had several members in the church when I was growing up who were Japanese and whose family was taken away, so we would send things to them all the time.”

High school marked a transition for Jay; Burbank High School was very academic with a stricter dress code to boot.

“Girls could only wear skirts and dresses, and no pants,” Jay said.  “We froze to death during the winter, it was terrible.  Boys wore Levi’s. That was the thing.  A lot of them wore white starch shirts tucked in, it looked so neat, and nobody wore a T-shirt; it was always a button-shirt.”

Throughout her life, Jay has kept her faith in God to help her with any of her struggles.  Even today, she sets a time for the quiet reading of the Scripture.  Her advice is for kids to read the Bible as well as any other book.

“[The Bible] gives you a foundation for everything else, and then do a lot of reading, because you know there’s hope for anybody who’ll read,” Jay said.  “Just follow what you feel like you need to do. Always have a clean conscience so when you lie down at night, you don’t have to worry about anything.”

Jay’s husband was a minister who stayed at his churches for a long time, but whenever he moved, she moved with him and taught school wherever they were.  She’s lived in Linden, Tahoe, Manteca and Southern California. The couple moved to O’Connor Woods two and a half years ago, when her husband became more dependent due to congestive heart failure.

At the retirement home, Jay still exercises her independence and does what she wants, like driving.  O’Connor Woods also has things to do every day, and she likes signing up for the different activities they provide, such as the very interview that this was based upon.

Jay is thankful for all of the good things in her life, and she says that outweighs any bad experiences that she has had, an optimism that carries over to today’s youth.

“You have so much energy and dreams and just everything is before you,” Jay said.  “Now we look back at everything, but it’s wonderful because I think of all the neat things, but it’s wonderful to have the energy and strength. It’s wonderful.”

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