by Jean Kirkpatrick in the Calaveras Enterprise, August 22, 1984
Editor’s note: I knew Jean very well, and Miss Fischer somewhat less well. Miss Fischer liked me, and a couple of times had asked me to meet with some young teacher that she had hired (at a time when teachers were in great demand) and I had done some other things for her and with her, including many, many years of Junior Relays. Anyway, even as I transcribe this, I find it very difficult to type just “Hazel”. To me and to most everyone else, she was always, and always will be, “Miss Fischer”. Before we begin the article, here are a few photos of Miss Fischer. As I look at the photo of Miss Fischer at 18 years old, I’m struck by the thought that this young woman was taking on a job that to me seems almost impossible to have success. Rowdy kids at least in part, no water, no janitor, no bus, well I just can’t picture it. She needed to be tough and obviously she was.
Who in the world was Hazel Fischer, and why was the school in White Pines named after her?
What a question! And yet a friend of mine who had lived in Arnold for years asked me that question the other day. It occurred to me then that there must be many newcomers to our county who have never heard of this great woman.
In 1916, Hazel Fischer was a young woman of eighteen when she came to Avery to teach in the little one-room school there. She found room and board at the Avery Hotel, and this was to remain her home for the rest of her life. In those days, school was held in the summer months because the winter snows closed the highway -at that time it was Moran Road -above Avery, and it was difficult for the children to attend. On hot days, Hazel took them swimming for their Physical Education period.
The school and the children who attended were her total responsibility and the center of her life. To make it the best possible school was her goal, and she pursued it for the next forty-seven years. In that long time, the society and the school grew and changed, but Hazel remained the old fashioned strict dedicated teacher so many Calaveras people remember with gratitude, love, and respect.
When the present stretch of highway between Avery and Big Trees was constructed in the late twenties, the area around what is now Arnold and White Pines began to develop. the coming of the lumber industry brought about a population shift, and a much larger school was built in White Pines. This building is today’s Independence Hall. Hazel, of course, was principal of the new school, and she remained as principal until two years before her retirement. The last two years she served as eighth grade teacher.
When she retired in 1964, the community and the Calaveras School Board were stumped as to how to honor her for her many years of dedication to the school. The decision to name the school for her was an inspired one, suggested by the children in her last class. It was the greatest gift they could have chosen, and it touched her as nothing else would have done. She is gone now, but how proud she would be of the fine growing school that bears her name today!
What was Hazel like as a person? It is hard to separate her from her school because she was totally wrapped up in it. She helped organize the Junior Olympics, now called the Junior Releays, and for years was the official scorer at that county-wide event. (Editor’s note: The relays were later renamed the “Hazel Fischer Relays”)
She was not always easy to get along with, as school boards and later the Calaveras Unified School District would testify. Let’s say she was not exactly a team player as far as the administration was concerned, and she was convinced that she knew what was best for her kids.
I remember when the district decided that all children would be dismissed at three thirty, and bus schedules were set up to that arrangement. Hazel felt that that was not a long enough school day, and she fought the district to a standstill. Her children went to school until 3:45, and the system just had to accommodate itself to her decision! It was shortly after that that she was relieved of her principal’s job, so perhaps the district won out after all. (Editors note: Not too long after this, the attendance area from and including Murphys, up to the Alpine County Line, took itself out of the Calaveras Unified School District and joined the Vallecito Union School District, so perhaps the district didn’t win out at all.)
Her home, as I have said, was always the Avery Hotel. Once, Louis Malaspina, a big landowner near Avery, offered to give her and acre of land so she could build a little house of her own, but she turned it down. She didn’t want the responsibility.
She never married, and had no family to speak of, but she owned a ranch she had inherited near Jesus Maria. There was no longer a house there but she kept a few cattle. She loved that ranch!
Once when she was taking a cow down to the stockyard in Stockton in the back of her old pickup, she was stopped by police. It did look peculiar as it was about two in the morning. He thought she was a cattle rustler!
Strange hours were usual with her because her days and evenings were spent at school, and all other activities took second place in her life. (Editor’s note: Each child in a California Public School had to have a Permanent Record kept up to date, and transferrable to another school if the child moved. Big job for teachers, and teachers like me hated the chore. Among other things, the recorder was torn between telling the truth, and not getting in trouble for slandering the child. “Just the facts, Mam”, as Joe Friday used to say. But facts didn’t tell the whole story, and opinions sometimes told more. At her school, Miss Fischer kept all the Permanent Records, ensuring that they would be done to her satisfaction.)
I know that she would have little patience with the educational system of today. Her children knew how to read, write, and compute, and a lot more before they graduated from her school. Besides their book learning, they learned to respect teachers and school property, to be polite to all adults, to be aware of their responsibilities, and to get along reasonably well with each other. I think it would be a good thing if we saw a little more of these old-fashioned values in our schools today.
Hazel, we still need you!