Las Virgenes schools founder Alice C. Stelle dead at 95

District matriarch a leader in education


RESPECTED COUPLE—Alice Stelle was a pioneer in local education. Her late husband, Mac, helped found the Las Virgenes water district. Courtesy photo

RESPECTED COUPLE—Alice Stelle was a pioneer in local education. Her late husband, Mac, helped found the Las Virgenes water district. Courtesy photo

Alice Condee Stelle, a founding member of the Las Virgenes Unified School District, died March 14, but her legacy of activism and love for children lives on in the hearts of many.

Stelle died of a stroke at her home in University Village, a retirement community in Thousand Oaks. She was 95. One of Stelle’s five children, Betsy Blum said her mother had suffered a stroke the previous week.

SMILES—Above, Stelle in the 1980s. At right, she greets former superintendent Bud Marley at the Las Virgenes school district’s 50th anniversary celebration in 2013.

SMILES—Above, Stelle in the 1980s. At right, she greets former superintendent Bud Marley at the Las Virgenes school district’s 50th anniversary celebration in 2013.

Stelle was a pioneer in the early years of the school district and went on to serve five terms on the board of education. The A.C. Stelle Middle School in Calabasas was built and named in her honor in 2004.

Stelle’s husband of 73 years, Macneil “Mac” Stelle, was a founding member of the Las Virgenes Municipal Water District. He died in 2015.

Alice Stelle began her involvement in local education in 1957 when she launched a battle to prevent the Las Virgenes region from being annexed into L.A. Unified School District.

Courtesy photos

Courtesy photos

Stelle worked to pass the first bond measure to unify the Las Virgenes district, but the action lost by four votes in January 1963. Refusing to give up, she and others donated $125 each to finance a second campaign, and on April 23, 1963, with voter turnout at an unprecedented 97 percent, the bond measure passed by four votes.

After the election, Stelle joined the new LVUSD board of education and served 25 years overseeing the building of more than a dozen schools from Calabasas to the Ventura County line.

Family affair

“My mother believed in the family dinner,” said Blum. “Every night we had a family dinner with everybody in the household. She wasn’t a great cook—she was so active—but she cooked from her regular menus that included classic spaghetti and meatloaf.”

Jeanie Blount, another Stelle daughter, shared a story about her own love of horseback riding and the support she received from Mom.

“I watched (people) jumping horses and fell in love,” Blount said. Before she knew it, her mother had arranged for riding lessons and formed the Hidden Hills Hunters with other families.

“She was my biggest cheerleader and I had a great time. My love of horses continues to this day.”

Lorie Zapf, now a member of the San Diego City Council, was among the 17 children who were fostered in the Stelle household.

“I was going to Agoura High School at the time,” Zapf said. “My mom was a severe alcoholic with severe mental health issues. Our dad couldn’t take care of us anymore, so my sister, brother and I went our separate ways to different foster families.”

During Zapf’s search for a foster family, she met Stelle, then a school board member.

Zapf lived with the Stelle family when she was in 10th through 12th grades and also while attending community college.

Living within the structure of the Stelle household was a challenge for Zapf.

“(Alice) was firm but not mean. She had rules. I was expected to be home for a family dinner every night. I didn’t want to question what would happen if I didn’t. She gave me that kind of stability that I never had, boundaries and rules that I never had. She just treated me (and other fostered kids) like family. I never felt that if I did something like a stupid teenager that I would be kicked out.”

In 2010, Zapf asked Stelle to issue the oath of office for her first term on the San Diego council.

“She was able to go on stage and swear me in,” Zapf said. “Here I was and it was because of her. It was the first time that I had revealed to everybody that I was a foster kid.”

Chris Sickelton of Paso Robles had been fostered by the Stelles, since the age of 12. He credits Alice Stelle with pushing him to reach his potential.

“It is absolutely a fact that I wouldn’t have graduated (from Calabasas High) without Alice’s constant, yet kind, influence for me to get it together and graduate,” said Sickelton, who went on to earn a computer tech certificate and has held computer jobs ever since.

Stelle also had a humorous side.

Chris Blum, Stelle’s grandson, said he loved it when his grandmother would say, “‘You’re my favorite grandchild for your age and weight.’ She said that to all her grandchildren.”

Former Las Virgenes superintendent Donald Zimring also spoke fondly of Stelle.

“Few people deserve the titles of pioneer and visionary more than Alice and Mac Stelle,” Zimring said.

“(Alice) was pioneer in convincing a rural/farming/ranching region to combine four one-room schools into a school district for the benefit of the area’s children. She was a visionary in seeing what local control could mean to the quality of education,” Zimring said. “Under Alice’s leadership, the district was one of the very first in the nation in the 1960s to structure itself around a middle school (grades six through eight) rather than the traditional junior high (grades seven through nine) model.”

Zimring said Stelle made sure that once the district was unified, all new schools would have air conditioning: “Something unheard of in our region at the time,” he said.

Celebration of life

Alice Stelle is survived by a son, three daughters, eight grandchildren, eight great-grandchildren and a sister, Lois Seed of Carlsbad.

A celebration of Stelle’s life will take place at 2 p.m. April 21 at A.C. Stelle Middle School in Calabasas. Condolence cards may be sent to Betsy Blum at 50575 Falcon View Road, Coarsegold, CA 93614.

You have 3 more free access views left