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Celebration of a local centenarian

Valeria Damm (Del Ponte) is assisted by her daughter, Maurya Smith, during the 100th birthday celebration.
Photo by Mark Larson Valeria Damm (Del Ponte) is assisted by her daughter, Maurya Smith, during the 100th birthday celebration. Photo by Mark Larson
Long-time resident Valeria Damm (Del Ponte) Van Zanten celebrated her 100th birthday with family, friends and former students on Saturday, Aug. 17, at the Addie Meedom House in Crescent City.

She was born on Aug. 19, 1913.

She was joined in the celebration by her sister, Rena Tryon, 92, of Hiouchi, and family; her daughter Maurya Smith and family of Redding; her son Darol Damm and family of Fortuna; grandson Lance Smith and family of San Mateo; granddaughter Jeannie Stillwell and family of Crescent City, and grandson Larry Smith, of Seattle.

The youngest relative in attendance was Van Zanten’s great-grandchild, Reagan Jacobs, 8 months old, with her mother Rachel Jacobs, of Ripon, Calif. Many other family members were among the 150-plus guests.

A life-long resident of Del Norte and Humboldt counties, Van Zanten graduated from Humboldt State University in 1934. Her 100th birthday is in the same year as HSU celebrates its centennial.

She began teaching at Klamath Union School near the Klamath River.

Jim Fisher, 87, of Ukiah, one of her former students there, attended the birthday celebration with his wife, Lillian.

“Valeria still remembers the time I hid a snake in her desk drawer when I was in fifth grade,” said Fisher. “It’s a good thing she didn’t have me in her first year of teaching or she might not have continued.” Fisher recalled his disappointment when Van Zanten was later forced to resign her first teaching post when she married.

Van Zanten retired from teaching, working as a librarian and school administration in 1973 and traveled to many places around the world. She was honored in 2011 by the Zeta Iota chapter of the Delta Kappa Gamma Society International, an organization for women educators, for 50 years of membership.

She lived independently in Crescent City and was recognized by many for her beautiful flowers. She moved into assisted living last spring. 

Van Zanten was raised by Swiss immigrants who homesteaded 200 acres near Klamath and attended the one-room Terwah School in Terwer Valley. She graduated from Del Norte High School in Crescent City.  Her younger brother, Harold Del Ponte, died earlier this year in Crescent City. 

“My mother is very lucid about dates and other memories, but is very frustrated by her loss of vision and hearing,” said Maurya Smith. “She did make a comment after the birthday party that she felt a lot of love and was very overwhelmed with so many family members and dear friends that came to celebrate her 100th birthday.”

“It was tiring for my mother but she had a good time,” said Darol Damm. “The party was very special for her and for many of us guests because we got to visit with so many people from far and wide. The Addie Meedam House did a good job hosting the party and mother was very happy with it.”

 


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