Chances are that if you ever met Deborah Manning, you wouldn’t forget her. In her classroom at Dailey Elementary she sparked excitement, joy and creativity. And as a co-owner of the popular bookstore Petunia’s Place in northwest Fresno, she sparked a love of literacy into many people.
“Our community has lost one of the biggest champions of children and literacy,” said Fresno author Armen Bacon.
Ms. Manning died Tuesday after a nearly yearlong fight with cancer. She was 66.
Ms. Manning was born in South Carolina and as an infant was adopted by William and Dorothy Paul, and raised in New Jersey.
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She earned her bachelor’s degree from Radford University in Radford, Va. And one of first teaching jobs was at a small school on a working farm in Virginia.
When Ms. Manning asked the school’s principal where the curriculum was, the principal said: “Look around you. It’s everywhere.”
It was those early lessons that Ms. Manning used to guide her as a teacher. Years later after moving to Fresno, she earned her masters degree from then-Fresno Pacific College and began teaching at Dailey Elementary School, where she stayed for 16 years.
Her belief was that the students needed to be engaged and that you learn by doing. She treasured every child and each student was championed.
Jean Fennacy, friend and co-owner of Petunia’s Place
She hosted a sleepover with her kindergarten students at school, oversaw a student-run radio station, and kept a guinea pig in her classroom. She planted a garden and created a pond.
“Her belief was that the students needed to be engaged and that you learn by doing,” said Jean Fennacy, friend and business partner. “She treasured every child and each student was championed.”
Ms. Manning also taught at the School of Education at Fresno Pacific University and at California State University, Fresno. She was noted for her knowledge of children’s literature, inspiring many teachers.
It was at Fresno Pacific where Ms. Manning and Fennacy first met. They shared a mutual passion for children’s literacy. That excitement would be the path that would lead the friends to buy Petunia’s Place about 27 years ago.
The northwest Fresno bookstore has been a destination for many parents and their children for years. In 2011, the store added books for adults to its shelves and began increasing its promotion of local authors, like Bacon.
“She loved bragging about the writing talent in Fresno,” Bacon said. “And was such a big supporter of local authors.”
Bacon, who visited the store often, enjoyed watching Ms. Manning and Fennacy work their magic at helping people find a book they would enjoy.
“She had such great instincts and would get to know her customers so she could find the perfect title for them,” Bacon said. “She was wildly enthusiastic and passionate about books and literacy. It was her true love.”
Deborah Anne Manning
Born: Oct. 13, 1949
Died: Sept. 6, 2016
Occupation: Educator, business owner
Services: A memorial service will be held at St. James Cathedral on Saturday, Sept. 17, at 11 a.m., followed by a reception.