Lifelong educator and community volunteer Elvera Melby died on June 4 at the age of 96.
Melby was known by many for her dedication to the community through her civic-led projects and engagement.
“I didn’t go anywhere without someone telling me a story about her. She was very well respected by all,” her son John Melby remembers.
As a native of Lodi, Melby spent 40 years working as an educator and school administrator at Lodi High School where she served as the physical education teacher, the dean of girls and vice principal.
Melby began her career in education in the 1950s and was seen as a maverick for challenging the status quo and advocating on behalf of her students who wanted to play sports.
She often championed for equitable distribution of athletic space for her female students, who were often seen as delicate or frail by their male counterparts.
Melby allowed two of her female students, Judy Hubert and Rosie Breitmeyer, to play on the boys baseball team in disguise, Hubert recalls. The two girls were only allowed to play at home games and had aliases on the roster
“I was Duke Snider and played shortstop, Rosie was Mickey Mantle and she was a right fielder. I do not recall ever losing any home games, and I played without a glove,” Hubert said.
Melby always encouraged women to find their own way in a male-dominated society.
“For me, it was in girls sports. She arranged for us to be part of the Girls Athletic Association. We were able to travel to faraway places like Acalanes in Lafayette to be in our first all girls basketball tournament,” Hubert said.
At the tournament, the girls were required to play on a half court because male administrators thought that playing full court would be too physically taxing.
Melby disapproved of those views and challenged the sexist stereotypes imposed on her students. She provided an outlet for students that did not want to be bound by gender roles.
Her reputation for being stern was respected by students who appreciated her moxie and tenacity.
“When I hear my granddaughters talk about women’s rights, I tell them about my experience and how proud I was of Mrs. Melby and what she took part in,” Hubert said.
John Melby remembers his mother as being a tough lady who worked for what she wanted.
As an educator, Melby wore many hats due to her ability to lead with her head and her heart.
“She was always encouraging of us. She was stern but she had so much compassion at the same time,” said Beverly Lacy, who was a student and colleague of Melby.
Lacy remembers Melby being diligent and a stickler for the rules.
“In school, girls had to wear skirts as part of the uniform and she would check the length of our hemlines,” Lacy said.
Melby would check hemlines by having students kneel on the ground, and if the skirt did not touch the floor students would have to call home for a change of clothes.
“She did it with respect, she never sought to embarrass anyone, and we appreciated her for that,” Lacy said.
Lacy followed in Melby’s footsteps, attending the University of the Pacific before going on to teach physical education at Lodi High School and later moving into the role of vice principal at Tokay High School.
Following in a similar path to Melby, Lacy felt she got to understand and know her mentor better, especially after the tragic deaths of Melby’s husband and son.
“She would come back and carry on, not letting the tragedy affect her. But I knew she had a softer heart than she wanted us to know,” Lacy said.
Although Melby faced tribulations of her own, she was always engaged in civic service and put her energy to helping others.
Melby served on the Lodi Parks and Recreation Commission for 20 years. During her tenure, she worked with former mayor Steve Mann, who recalls her civic engagement.
“She was a model citizen who contributed a lot to the community,” Mann said.
Melby, who served as the president of the Lodi Soroptimist, was instrumental in the development of Candy Cane Park located on Holly Drive.
“She was very passionate about kids being able to go outside and play,” Lacy said.
Melby worked to establish a space for youth to congregate and served as the director of Ye Olde Hangout, a teen center. She also organized and supervised playground programs and special activities.
Melby’s commitment to her volunteer projects earned her the recognition of Woman of the Year by the Lodi Soroptimist, and in 2000 she was inducted into the Lodi Community Hall of Fame.
Melby has also received the prestigious Amos Alonzo Stagg Award from the University of Pacific, and the Distinguished Alumni Volunteer Award.
“She touched the lives of thousands, I know she will be widely missed,” Mann said.
Melby is survived by her sister Isabel Ferrari, her niece DeeDee Ferrari, nephew Bobby Giorgi, and niece Stephanie Giorgi. She was preceded in death by her husband Jack, her son Jeff, and her niece Deborah Erardi.
Melby will not have a memorial service and has asked that friends and family donate to the Lodi Boys and Girls Club and Hospice of San Joaquin in her honor.