Shirley Contreras: Nora Preisker taught high school, gave travel programs | Local News

Both Nora Preisker and Charles Leo (most commonly known as “Leo”) Preisker, children of Thomas J. and Louise Preisker, were born in Visalia, Nora on September 30, 1883 and Leo on August 15, 1885.

Around 1890, a malaria epidemic broke out in the Visalia area, and Nora contracted the disease. Since she was also a diabetic, when it became apparent that her life was in danger, she was sent to live in Santa Maria. The rest of her family didn’t join her until 1894.

Her father, Thomas Preisker, went into a partnership with a local attorney, Philip Stewart, thus creating a law firm that is still in existence, and through the years names like Goble, Twitchell and Stephan have appeared on their business cards.

There was no question about it. Nora was her brother’s boss, and pushed him to get top grades. As was printed in the book, “This is Our Valley,” Leo said: “I wanted to play, but she wouldn’t let me. I was compelled to get good grades.” In spite of the fact that he worked at odd jobs at least 40 hours per week, he was goaded into being editor of the high school paper and eventually became class president and valedictorian.

When Nora graduated from Santa Maria Union High School with the Class of 1902, there were four teachers on the staff. Her fellow graduates included: Thomas Connor, Chester Cox, Edythe Elliot, Helen Gardner, John Harris, Thomas Jones, Ruth Maulsby, Myrtle Nance, Owen Rice, Evelyn Stokes, Walter Stokes and Carrie Woods.

After graduating from high school, Nora began teaching in various grade schools with no college degree. Of course, this was after 1902 and the laws might have been more liberal at that time. For example, beginning in 1901, newly prepared teachers needed to be graduated from an “approved program” at a normal school or university, in order to be eligible for a “life diploma,” the most permanent and desirable form of teacher certification. However, county school boards could use a six-year grammar grade certification on the basic examinations, but this certification was only valid in the county where it was issued.

Since Nora wanted to be a high school teacher more specific requirements needed to be met, so she enrolled in the University of California at Berkeley where she graduated in 1908 with the necessary certificates to teach high school.

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She taught at both Brawley and Escondido high schools, before going to Inglewood where she eventually became assistant superintendent in charge of English, Spanish and history, teaching there for 30 years.

Many superior court and appellate court judges, all having come through her classroom, attended her retirement party. One of the judges, in referring to his former teacher commented, “Students? Yes; ‘former’ students? NEVER!”

After she retired, she moved into a retirement home for teachers in Pasadena where her father lived with her. Her mother had died in 1931 in Inglewood.

We might say that Nora had two careers as, while she was teaching, she used her vacation time to do extensive traveling and picture-taking. After she retired, she became an even more frequent traveler, circling the globe several times, and building up a new career of traveling around the state giving travel programs, illustrated by her own slides. She often came to Santa Maria where she gave travel programs at the Minerva Club. She was also an enthusiast for flowers and floral arrangements, and was a member of the Audubon Society.

Nora was very close to her sister-in-law, Annie Preisker and to her nieces, Patricia McLanahan, Miriam Ainscough and Katherine Durley, and the five often visited each other’s homes.

The 78-year-old Nora Preisker died May 22, 1961, of cancer, in Pasadena. Her burial, per her request, was private.

Shirley Contreras lives in Orcutt and writes for the Santa Maria Valley Historical Society. She can be contacted at 623-8193 or at Her book, “The Good Years,” a selection of stories she’s written for the Santa Maria Times since 1991, is on sale at the Santa Maria Valley Historical Society, 616 S. Broadway.

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