Longtime Trustee Not Ready to Quit : Education: Elaine K. Garber, who has served on the Hueneme school board since 1959, is also an advocate of civic causes. At 67, she says, 'If I'm able to do it, I do it.'


Until four years ago, the Hueneme school board was one of the most stable in California: Its five trustees had served side-by-side for more than a quarter of a century.

Now Elaine K. Garber, a tireless advocate for both educational and civic causes, is the only one of the old guard left.

One veteran school board member moved out of the Hueneme Elementary School District. Two others lost reelection bids in 1990. And a fourth was voted out in 1992. Only Garber survived.

First appointed to the Hueneme school board in 1959, Garber is now the longest-serving school trustee in Ventura County and one of the most senior in the state.

Fewer than 50 of the 5,000 school board members across California can match Garber's 35 years of service, according to the California School Boards Assn.

During her tenure, the 7,800-student district has changed dramatically, its racial makeup shifting from 85% white in 1959 to three-quarters minority today. And it has grown poorer.

Now nearly two-thirds of its students qualify for free or reduced lunches.

Despite the seven-school district's lack of wealth, Garber and other trustees have steered it to national recognition for its use of technology in the classroom.

One Hueneme junior high school, Charles Blackstock, is among a handful statewide that has received a multimillion-dollar grant for using computers as a teaching tool. Another junior high, E. O. Green, is one of only six Ventura County schools ever to be recognized as national Blue Ribbon Schools.

But Garber, a onetime elementary schoolteacher, has made a name for herself in Port Hueneme beyond her school board achievements.

"Her name is just so known personally to everyone," fellow school board member Darlene Bruno said. "She's been in every little nook and cranny in this city. People in this community know she's behind a lot of things."

The 67-year-old Garber has volunteered for nearly every civic cause in Port Hueneme over the past few decades.

She helped launch the city's annual Harbor Days celebration 30 years ago and still serves as treasurer. She was one of the founders of Port Hueneme's historical museum. And she is an officer in the group that raises money for the local library.

"I don't like to just talk about 'Someone should do this,' " Garber said. "If I'm able to do it, I do it."

In addition to her civic activities, Garber may also be known to Port Hueneme residents in a different role: as their astrologer.

She has run an astrology business from her home for 20 years, preparing clients' astrological charts from a personal computer. She has even taught astrology courses through the local park district.

Although she knows that some people dismiss astrology as bunk, that doesn't bother Garber.

"Astrology is folk psychology or folk philosophy," she said. "It's really based on a lot of common sense."

A great believer in common sense, Garber belies any image of astrologers as flighty or whimsical.

A favorite among her wide-ranging interests is finance. Garber has volunteered for the past 20 years to help poor Oxnard residents complete their income tax forms. And she has served as treasurer for many civic groups.

"She has taken care of the money for so long," said Penny Wolcott, chairman of the Port Hueneme Harbor Days organizing committee, "that we never even question it."

To Garber, the key to the success of organizations and people is how well they handle their money. "You can have all the dreams you want," she said. "If you don't know how to manage your finances, you won't get them realized."

Such pragmatism combined with an open-mindedness that allows Garber to embrace such unorthodox philosophies as astrology has been evident during her reign on the Hueneme school board.

Over the years, Garber has been one of the district's leading advocates for offering high teacher salaries to attract top talent. And its teachers are among the highest paid.

Beginning teachers in Hueneme earned about $25,600 this school year, more than in any other county district except Conejo Valley, Oxnard Union High School and Ojai.

Garber is also credited with helping make the Hueneme district a pioneer in classroom computer use.

"She's been a total advocate for the use of technology to deliver instruction," Assistant Supt. Nikki Davis said.

In the late 1970s, when it was still unusual to find personal computers in homes, Garber and her husband Duane, an engineer, drove to Santa Barbara to buy the latest model of a new line of the electronic gadgets.

After trying it out at home, Garber took her new computer to a Hueneme school board meeting, where she demonstrated its capabilities to her colleagues. They embraced its use unanimously.

"A board member has to have a vision and know their community and know what's going on all over," Garber said. "We wouldn't be where we're at if I waited for the community to tell me" what to do.

In 1989, about 10 years after that computer demonstration, the Hueneme district was one of only six in California to win a multimillion-dollar state technology grant.

The $3 million is going toward installing computers, video monitors and other electronic equipment in classrooms at Blackstock, which will serve as a model for school districts across the state.

The Hueneme district's emphasis on technology is noteworthy partly because of the poverty of many of its students.

Recently, proponents of the so-called information superhighway have voiced concerns that the poor and minorities across the nation may be left out of the burgeoning computer network.

But Garber said she has known all along that many Hueneme students come from families that cannot afford home computers. So school is the only place where these children can become comfortable with such technology.

"I wanted my students to have as good a technological education as in Beverly Hills," Garber said. "We're not a wealthy district. But that doesn't mean we can't have a teaching-learning experience equal to a wealthy district."

Garber is also a well-known local history buff.

Soon after moving to Port Hueneme in 1959, she developed a curiosity about the city's history that gradually grew into an interest in the county's past.

She was the first woman president of the Ventura County Historical Society. And in 1973, the County Board of Supervisors appointed Garber to head the committee organizing the celebration of the county's 100th anniversary.

Brady Cherry, the recreation director for Port Hueneme, said he always turns to Garber when he has a question about local history.

"If I want to know, for example, where a certain building stood," Cherry said, "Elaine knows."

But Garber remains a participant in as well as a chronicler of local history, and she shows no signs of slowing down. She says she is considering a run this fall for a ninth term on the school board.

As long as Garber wants that job, school officials said, she will probably have it.

"She's hung in there," said Mary Samples, the district's director of pupil services. "She certainly has done her due and given her bit to society. Elaine will be around in Hueneme as long as she wants to be."

Profile of Elaine Kathleen Garber

Age: 67

Profession: Has held jobs as an elementary schoolteacher, bookkeeper, dental assistant, tour guide for a local sightseeing service. Runs an astrology business from her home.

Public service: Trustee on the Hueneme Elementary School District board since 1959; treasurer for Port Hueneme Harbor Days, Friends of the Bard Mansion and Friends of Hueneme Library; finance chairman for the Area Housing Authority of Ventura County; member of the Port Hueneme Historical Museum Commission; founding member of the Oxnard branch of the American Assn. of University Women; past president of the Hueneme Historical Society, the Ventura County Historical Society and the Ventura County School Boards Assn.; chairman of the county's 1973 Centennial Committee.

Family: Husband Duane Garber, daughter Lydia Stevenson, son David Garber.

Quote: About her years on the Hueneme school board: "I stay with things, I stick with things. I've only had one home in Port Hueneme. I've only had one husband."

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World