Gertrude Ness’s first job teaching the primary grades at a rural school in Minnesota paid $60 a month. Her second — teaching second grade and heading up the music program at a “town school” — paid $100 a month.
It was a modest start to a long, fruitful career that would culminate in a 30-year stint with the Glendale Unified School District. But while Ness, now 104, formally retired from the district 37 years ago, she remains active in the local community, volunteering her time through several civic organizations, including the Retired Teachers Assn., the Sons of Norway, the Committee for a Clean & Beautiful Glendale and the Patrons Club.
Her activism will be recognized next month by the California Teachers Assn. Glendale-Foothill Division 11. Evelyn Florio, who organizes volunteer efforts for the group, described Ness’s commitment to the community as boundless. And her longevity is inspiring to those around her, she added.
“She is being recognized for her involvement with the California Teachers Assn. and her life as a teacher,” Florio said. “She comes to every one of our meetings.”
Ness, who has two children, three grandchildren and two great-grandchildren, credits her volunteerism and strong social network for her long and healthy life.
“If I stayed [at home] day in and day out, I would go nuts,” Ness said. “That is why people get old, they are not active enough in organizations.”
Born in Milroy, Minn., Ness attended the Minnesota State Teachers College and taught for several years in Minnesota before marrying her husband, Peder. The couple moved with their two daughters to Glendale in 1941.
Peder worked during the day at a bank, while his wife worked the night shift at the Lockheed Vega plant in Burbank riveting the bomb-bay doors on B17 bombers.
With World War II underway, fathers left to serve overseas and mothers were tapped to work production lines, driving up the demand for childcare. In 1943, Ness was hired by the Glendale Unified School District to work at its preschool, located where Columbus Elementary School is now.
“They wanted me to start right away because it was hard to find teachers with some sort of background in early education,” Ness said.
She took night classes through UCLA to earn the necessary California teaching credentials and slowly worked her way up the ladder, eventually earning the title of director of early childhood development.
Ness helped relocate the preschool to Cerritos Elementary School, where it was run for several decades out of mobile army barracks. She also helped found Cloud Preschool in La Crescenta, which is still operational.
She retired in 1974.
Just one month shy of her 105th birthday, Ness continues to enjoy an independent lifestyle. During the last several decades, her volunteer activities have included leadership positions with the Glendale Homeowners Coordinating Council, the Glendale YWCA, the Women’s Committee of the Glendale Symphony Orchestra Assn. and the Altrusa Club of Glendale.
“I still drive my car,” Ness said. “However, I don’t take anybody with me. And I don’t drive freeways.”
She is an ardent Lakers fan, and keeps a Kobe Bryant bobble head on a coffee table in her living room. She has attended two Lakers games at the Staples Center, but noted that their recent success has made it harder to land a seat.
“You have to know somebody who knows somebody who knows somebody to get a ticket,” she said.
She has no plans on slowing down, and has taken to scheduling her commitments with various organizations a week in advance.
“Each one of them keeps your mind active,” Ness said.