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My School Years

By Sita Dimitroff Milchev

The City of Mill Valley is privileged to have inherited a number of excellent online articles written by Mill Valley resident Alan Nayer. These articles give historical background and information about Mill Valley. More of Mr. Nayer's articles can be found by visiting our Locations of Interest page.

Historical photo - Mill Valley 1940

Mill Valley in the 1940s © Mill Valley Public Library

My School Years in Mill Valley by Sita Dimitroff Milchev

My School Years in Mill Valley is a feature that grew from an article about Ernest Bloch Memorial Park and the person it honors, the composer who wrote his epic symphonic rhapsody America while living in Mill Valley during the late 1920s. A short time after the Bloch Park article was published in the Mill Valley Herald, sixty-year-old Sita Dimitroff Milchev, the granddaughter of Ernest Bloch and the daughter of Stephen and Lucienne (Bloch) Dimitroff, the original owners of Dimitroff's Frame Shop in downtown Mill Valley, contacted the author. Via correspondence, Ms. Milchev, a professional singer, revealed memories of a rich childhood lived in Mill Valley, and agreed to put some of these memories into writing.

My years growing up in Mill Valley and attending the schools there were full of fun and enlightenment. My parents, Stephen Pope Dimitroff and Lucienne Bloch Dimitroff, were both born in Europe. My mother spent her younger years in Swiss schools before she came to America in 1918 and attended school in Cleveland, Ohio. My dad arrived from Bulgaria in 1920, when he was ten years old, and started grammar school in Flint, Michigan. He and his younger brother became so proficient in the English Language that they were both on the debating team at Northern High in Flint. It never bothered my dad that he was older than the other kids in his classes. He wanted to learn the language and the customs and become a real American, so he studied very hard. Besides the other Bulgarian families who lived in and around Flint, there was no one else who spoke the language at his elementary school. So, he and his brother spent much of their free time at the movies, which in those days were silent.

1949 Stephen Pope Dimitroff

Sita's father Stephen Pope Dimitroff
in front of Dimitroffs Frame Shop at
34 Lovell Ave in 1949 © Old Stage

I started Kindergarten at Old Mill School in the kindergarten room at the north end of Old Mill. It was "Room K". All the other classrooms were labeled with numbers that coincided with the grades. That was back in 1948. I remember the cafeteria very well and the green jello and macaroni and cheese that was served. We didn't serve that kind of food in my home and it was wonderful to taste new foods. I had never had a graham cracker and was amazed that you got a little tub of milk and a graham cracker every day for a snack at school. Mrs. Eileen Schroeder was the teacher in Kindergarten. She was wonderful, playing the piano while we danced or cutting out parts of paper people so we could put them together with brads.

What I was taught at home was also taught at school: the importance of property rights... what isn't yours, isn't yours; the importance of manners, including listening to those about you without interrupting, and not being rude to the teacher. You waited your turn when waiting in line to play a game or waiting for the school bus. My parents, being very European in background felt that teachers here in the U.S. were as right as the teachers in Europe.

My entire experience at Old Mill (from Kindergarten to the 6th grade) was one that I look back upon with lots of satisfaction. I feel today that I received as much as I wanted to get from the wonderful and talented teachers that taught me there.

One of the most fun things that I did at Old Mill was play in the little trees that grew in the "little" kids yard. The "big" kids and little kids yards were separated by what was the old bike room and the passageway between the two yards. The little kids, from first through third grade, played in the lower or little kids yard and the students from the fourth through the eighth, or sixth in later years after Old Mill changed to a K-6 school, played in the upper yard or big kids yard. The little trees were wonderful to climb up into and play whatever games we could think of. There was dirt under them. The sandboxes had the swinging bars and monkey bars in them. Wooden boards that held the sand in surrounded them. Soon the yards were covered with asphalt and the little trees that we so loved were removed. I missed those little trees, but there was still one huge oak in the middle of the little yard. We tried to climb in it, but the limbs had been cut high so we couldn't reach them.

Old Mill School in the 1930s

Old Mill School in the 1930s © Mill Valley Public Library

In the big kids yard were lots of trees and lots of different places to sit. Basketball courts, kickball squares and rings to swing on were all there. In the upper grounds, above the passageway to both yards were the tennis courts. There we had two tetherball poles. That was probably the most fun of all during recess. I never saw anyone play tennis in the courts, though.

My oldest brother, George, was in the last eighth grade class at Old Mill. He graduated in June of 1952 and went on to attend Tamalpais High School. When he was attending Tam, he was a very good student and was in the group called "Honor T", the honor society. My family always went to these functions and it was there that I experienced my first real love of singing. Mr. Bob Greenwood was the choir director at Tam, and his choir always sang one or two songs at the meetings. I vowed to try and get into his choir when I finally attended Tam myself.

After Old Mill, I attended Alto School over in Alto. The Mill Valley kids took the school bus over in the morning and rode back in the afternoon. Most of the time songs were being sung or one just sat and watched Mill Valley grow into a bustling town. Alto was very crowded, as I remember, because we had lots more kids than just the ones from Old Mill. Students from Tam Valley and Richardson Bay attended the Junior High at Alto. I remember Mrs. Schroeder, my Kindergarten teacher, had decided to start an orchestra at Alto including all the students from the seventh and eighth grades. She taught me to play the cello and I played for graduation. She was a wonderful musician, teaching four of us how to play the cello at her home on Saturday afternoons for free because she believed in furthering students' power in music. I attended Alto for only my seventh grade year. When Edna Maguire Junior High School, now Edna Maguire Elementary School, was finished in the fall of 1956, I was in the first graduating class of that school. The same group of students from Old Mill, Richardson Bay and Tam Valley, who had attended Alto, all attended Edna Maguire.

Corte Madera Avenue in the mid-1950s

Mill Valley in the 1940s © Mill Valley Public Library

I'll never forget the big earthquake of 1956. We were sitting in class and I thought the girl in front of me was kicking my desk and I was just about the ask her to stop when our teacher yelled, "Hit the deck!". He was an old Navy man and didn't know what the heck was happening. When we finally realized what it was, we piled out of class and ran to the hill outside of class. At lunch that day, the first song that was played over the loudspeaker was Elvis' "All Shook Up!". I thought that was pretty funny. I think we had over 150 students in that graduating class. But, I was very happy to get out of Junior High and experience high school.

Tam High was also very crowded. Marin County had grown so much that Drake High in San Anselmo had to be built to accommodate students from Kentfield, Larkspur, Corte Madera and Fairfax. San Rafael and Tam were the only public high schools in the county in 1952. Marin Catholic was over in Larkspur too. When my oldest brother graduated from Tam in 1956, Drake High in Fairfax had already opened. During those few years between the time Drake was built and I became a freshman in 1958, there had to be another high school built, and this time it was built in Corte Madera. It was Redwood. I remember vividly the contest for the mascot name and the new colors of the school. The students from all three schools wanted to keep at least one of the colors of the other three, but because red was the only color in two out of the three schools, it was chosen as one of the colors for Redwood. Gray, of course, was chosen as the other color.

Students from Belvedere and Tiburon would now be leaving Tam to attend Redwood. I had made a few new friends from the kids who lived "over the hill - towards the East", and was sorry when they had to leave. But, if you already had a sibling who attended Tam, you had the choice to continue your studies at Tam and didn't have to transfer over to Redwood. Finally the mascot of the Giants was chosen for Redwood with the colors Red and Gray. I believe that the Giants were chosen because San Francisco had acquired the New York Giants for their baseball team and they were very popular.

The depot in 1949, when it was a bus depot

The depot in 1949, when it was a
bus depot © 2004 Old Stage Studios

In High School, the first real test of my confidence was put to the forefront. I had to sing a song for Mr. Greenwood to get into Girls' Glee Club. I was a bit scared, but from that time to the present I thank Bob Greenwood for his dedication, his exactness in music and his thoughtfulness for all of his students throughout the years. The following year I was able to get into the Choir and was so grateful to be able to sing in this wonderful group. In the fall of 1960, our choir sent in an audition tape of our singing to the Winter Olympics Committee. We were one of just a small number of choirs (I believe only 20) chosen from the State of California to sing at the opening ceremonies for the Winter Olympics held at Squaw Valley. It was thrilling to take the bus very early in the morning and drive up into the snow and then sing for the opening. I'll never forget that experience. Of course, we had two buses for those of us who smoked (called the Smoker's Bus - I made sure I was on that one!) and another for the students who didn't. We had a ball!!!

Mr. Greenwood made such an impression on me that I tried to take every class and wanted to be in every production that he put on, whether I was doing make-up and singing back stage or on stage in a role. If it weren't for Mr. Greenwood and his wonderful way of teaching and helping me I don't know if I would have had a career in music. But it has been a good choice for me throughout my adult life. I owe him my career.

Tam High girls in downtown Mill Valley in the late 1950s

Tam High girls in downtown Mill Valley in the late
1950s © 2000-2004 Mill Valley Public Library

Throughout my years at Tam, I hated having to run up from the Girl's Gym to the Bandbox. It always seemed that every year my schedule had me taking gym before I had music. And, it took all of the five minutes between classes to get from one place to the other.

Tam teachers were always on the ball. They didn't take any back talk from any of the students. Actually, I don't remember many students talking back during my years there. Most of us wanted to learn. We knew instinctively that if we didn't hear what was going on in class, we couldn't ask questions that were intelligent. I don't know of more than a few students out of my class of over 200 who didn't succeed in whatever they tried to do in life after attending schools in Mill Valley. The education that was taught there was complete.

I learned quite a lot of good social skills at Tam. I learned how NOT to write a note from my parents ...(I always got caught...). I learned that water balloons really smash the best when you throw them at a metal locker. I also learned that if you had long hair and used the wall dryers in the girls' gym, you'd better not get too close or the dryer will suck up your hair!

Sita Dimitroff Milchev 

Last updated: 8/22/2010 9:17:23 PM