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At approximately 4-foot-9 and barely 100 pounds, the longtime Los Gatos resident could easily be mistaken for a youth herself. Additionally, she has devoted her life to serving South Bay youths, first as a teacher and then as a proponent of reading. But most importantly, Spector and her colleagues chose to celebrate Alfson for a life very well–and very generously–lived. Frances Alfson, who will ride in the Los Gatos Children’s Christmas and Holidays Parade on Saturday, still drives herself to the grocery store and to her thrice-weekly bridge games, and she stays in touch with her three daughters daily via her cell phone. But when she entered the world 100 years ago, life was dramatically different.
The North Dakota farm on which she was born lacked electricity, running water or indoor plumbing, and meals were prepared on a wood-burning stove, When not putting in long, grueling days accomplishing the thousands of tasks required to keep families and livestock fed and crops growing, girls learned traditional “feminine” skills, such as cooking and cleaning, Most settled into marriage and childbearing early, rarely leaving their hometowns, dance shoes stores But from the start, Alfson was different, The oldest of three siblings, she was given two gifts that distinguished her from her female contemporaries: responsibility for her younger sisters and an education, In concert they formed the blueprint for her life..
Frances Chance and her sisters attended elementary school on an Indian reservation. Getting to classes–especially during North Dakota’s brutal winters–required guts and determination. “I was the oldest, so I drove the horse and buggy,” Alfson recounted while whipping up a batch of chocolate chip oatmeal cookies. “Our father had built a wooden box that went over the top, and the reins went through a little opening. Even during blizzards, I’d put the bridle on the horse and go pick up other kids in the area, and drive us all to school.”.
Unlike many of the neighboring farms, Alfson’s dance shoes stores family weathered the Great Depression, But the experience made a lasting impact on Alfson’s parents, “My grandfather, who came to live with us before he died, always talked about how hard you worked for your money back then, and that the banks took it and kept it,” said Carol Lotz, the second of Alfson’s daughters, “He buried a bunch of his money in coffee cans; I think some of it’s still buried somewhere in Los Gatos.”..
The eldest Chance eventually enrolled in classes at Mayville State Teachers College (later to become Mayville State University), taking with her the two dresses she’d sewn from patterned flour sacks, which constituted her entire wardrobe. On campus (where she had electricity for the first time), she became the dean’s assistant. She also met a star athlete named Hillard Alfson. “We were thrown together at a freshman mixer. He asked me to dance, he had red hair and a green cap, and that did it,” Alfson laughed.
Putting her education on hold, the coed married her beau (“Alfson Takes a Chance,” proclaimed the newspaper headline announcing their engagement), In the 1940s, the Alfson family, which by then included their first daughter, relocated to California, Says Sue Lassetter, the eldest offspring, “We ended up out here because Dad was a G-man, He chased Nazis in Louisiana while Mom and I were on the West Coast.”, The family eventually moved from Dixon, where Hillard had become a school principal and his wife taught first grade, to Los Gatos, Their first home, purchased in 1954, was on Azalea Way, a convenient commute to Hillard’s post as assistant superintendent of the Campbell Union School District and to Frances’ job as a first-grade teacher in the Moreland School dance shoes stores District..
Scheduled to assume the superintendent slot, Hillard died in 1963. Only 49, his widow moved her daughters to the house on Cherry Blossom Lane where she has lived ever since. “Things changed a bit after our father died,” said Audrey Sanfilippo, the youngest Alfson child. “I was 17 and at Los Gatos High, Carol was in college and Sue was a teacher in the Union School District by then. But Mom basically marshaled her internal forces and did what she had to do to keep things going.”.
Added Lassetter, “Mom went dance shoes stores back to college to finish her degree and get her teaching certificate, So we were both at San Jose State at the same time, which was kind of different.”, As the years and her career progressed, her children say that Frances Alfson was a constant whirlwind of activity, Whether tiling her front hallway, refinishing furniture, gardening, sewing or cooking for a continuous stream of houseguests, Alfson was rarely idle–a trait she retains to this day, “I remember just before my wedding, Mom was sitting on the floor painting shutters,” Sanfilippo said, “She’s always done everything herself, Yet for as long as I can remember, all of our friends have always said things like ‘your mom is such a lady; she’s so gracious’ … and she really is.’ “..