Zanker Road, named for a pioneer family who had a house and prosperous farm on that road in Alviso, runs north and south from Highway 237 and isn’t actually in Milpitas proper. But Pearl Zanker School, named for a member of that Zanker family, is in southern Milpitas on Falling Leaf Drive and was named for a memorable teacher who taught Milpitas students for over 40 years.
Pearl Zanker’s grandfather, William Zanker, came to the United States in 1849, at the age of 19, and worked in farming in various parts of the country until he arrived in California in 1855 via the overland Panama route (no canal in those days). He first worked in the mines in El Dorado and then in Santa Cruz County before settling on what he thought was government land, near Alviso. However, he soon found out that it was claimed, under a previous grant, by Governor Burnett. After two years of litigation, Mr. Zanker and his partners were defeated. He rented this same land until about 1863, when he was able to purchase it.
In 1861 Mr. Zanker married Miss Catherine Watters, whose parents also came from Germany. William and Catherine Zanker raised hay and grain for the stock on their farm and also grew pears, strawberries, and asparagus. They had eight children, four daughters and four sons, one of whom was the father of Pearl Zanker.
Built in 1868, their farmhouse stood on the same spot for over one hundred years, until it was acquired by History San Jose and moved to History Park, where it was restored in 1988, and is now open to the public. The structure currently holds display and archival materials belonging to the African American Heritage House.
Pearl Zanker (1901-1978) grew up in Milpitas, where her parents had moved to raise their family. She was the valedictorian of her high school class at Berryessa School, and an accomplished pianist by her high school years, according to articles in the newspapers of the day telling of her performances at recitals and social events.
In 1926, Miss Zanker began her teaching career at the Milpitas Grammar School, the same building that is now part of the Milpitas Library. It was then the only school in Milpitas. After teaching 7th and 8th grades for 10 years (in the classroom now dedicated to her at the Milpitas Library), she became a teaching principal, a position she held into the 1950’s. She then became a personnel director in the district office in 1964, where she stayed until her retirement.
In 1970 the Pearl Zanker Elementary School was built and dedicated; it was rededicated in 2000 with the addition of the new wing. It is a California Distinguished School, an honor of which we can be sure that Pearl Zanker would have been proud.
November 8, 2012 by mhs