2017-01-05 / Front Page
Oak Park schools founder Pat Manning dies at 84
A pioneer in education and city matters
Pat Manning, one of the founders of Oak Park Unified School District, was ready for a joyous Christmas celebration. Her annual holiday newsletter was mailed, cookies were baked and delivered, and she was thrilled that her entire family including four children, 11 grandchildren and two greatgrandchildren would be together for the holidays.
On Dec. 22, however, Manning died in her sleep at her home in Banning, Calif. She was 84.
In addition to her pioneer efforts in education, Manning was one of the first employees of the City of Agoura Hills when it incorporated in 1982. Manning became secretary to City Manager Mike Huse in 1984 and was promoted to city clerk in 1990, a position she held until 1997.
“She was just a wonderful woman,” Agoura Hills administrative secretary and longtime Manning friend Judy Ptashkin said. “No one could compare.”
“(She was) always smiling and always wanting to help me since I was so new to the council," said Agoura Hills Mayor Denis Weber. "She went out of her way to show me her job and how it affected the City Council,”
Manning’s biggest accomplishment came with the development of the Oak Park’s public school system.
When Manning and her family moved to Oak Park in 1968, Brookside Elementary School was open, but middle and high school students had to be bused to Simi Valley, and some parents, including Manning, objected.
The story goes that Manning's daughter, Barbara Preston, suffered a harrowing experience with students at Sinaloa Middle School in Simi Valley. Her mother, she said, was already upset that her children were forced to wait for the bus in the dark at Mae Boyar Park, but handling bullying issues so far from home was the final straw.
Manning tried on three occasions to make Oak Park part of the Las Virgenes Unified School District, but former LVUSD superintendent Donald Zimring remembers the negotiations and said Las Virgenes officials felt that the state funding wouldn’t be enough to accommodate the new Oak Park students. The merger never happened.
At the time, Manning was working as a field deputy for State Assemblymember Paul Priolo, who represented Oak Park in Sacramento, and she convinced her boss to tackle the issue of creating a separate school district for the new bedroom community in eastern Ventura County.
On Jan. 13, 1977, the State Board of Education approved the new Oak Park public school district. The first school board was elected on May 31, 1977 and Manning was chosen. Manning served on the school board until 1987 and was president twice.
Former Oak Park school board member Jim Kalember remembered Manning as “mentor and a voice of calm reason during some difficult times of change.”
“I remember when she was on the board and the thoughtful questions she would ask," Oak Park Superintendent Tony Knight said. “If the discussion became at all tumultuous, she was always calm and would make a speech calling for reason and moderation.”
Manning had moved away from Oak Park by the time Marilyn Lippiatt became Oak Park superintendent in 1993, but her presence lived on.
“She told me, ‘This is Oak Park and anything is possible here,’” Lippiatt said.
Fran Pavley, retired state senator and Agoura Hills’ first mayor, also carries fond memories of Pat Manning.
“(Agoura Hills) started with a small staff of five people, and Pat was one of them,” Pavley said. “Her ability to communicate with the public, strong work ethic, her grace under pressure, loyalty to city staff and the council, and her involvement in the Oak Park and Agoura schools and civic organizations, made her an ideal employee for our young city.”
According to former mayor Jeff Reinhardt, “(Manning) cheerfully provided what I needed, and I was impressed with her upbeat attitude, attention and thoroughness. From that point on, I came to hold our city in high regard, which led me on a path to volunteerism, civic engagement, planning commission and City Council.”
David Ross, one of Oak Park’s first residents, remembers Manning’s many contributions to the community..
“As one of the earlier residents of Oak Park, Pat and her husband, Stan, founded Nuevos Amigos (New Friends) as a social organization for new residents,” Ross said. “On the school board, I never saw Pat lose her temper or ever appear angry. She was an instrument of peace.”
Betty DeSantis, a former Westlake Village City Council member, and Manning developed a friendship as professionals and as volunteers.
“She was quite a woman,” DeSantis said. “We called her Manning from Banning. She thought more about you than she did herself.”
Manning is survived by her four children: Barbara Preston of Newbury Park; Steve Manning, an Orange County resident; Nancy Boer of Moorpark; and Mike Manning, a resident of San Diego. She is also survived by 11 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
A service will be held Fri., Jan. 6 at the Beaumont (Calif.) Presbyterian Church.