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Low enrollment closed Catholic girls’ high school in Fresno

The Feb. 24, 1966 Fresno Bee shows the Queen of the Valley Academy high school building at 255 W. Bullard Ave. in Fresno. The school opened as a girls Catholic high school in fall 1965, with classes held at St. Anthony’s Elementary School until the high school building was completed.
The Feb. 24, 1966 Fresno Bee shows the Queen of the Valley Academy high school building at 255 W. Bullard Ave. in Fresno. The school opened as a girls Catholic high school in fall 1965, with classes held at St. Anthony’s Elementary School until the high school building was completed. Fresno Bee archive

Q: What is the history of Queen of the Valley Academy and how did it get its name? I attended there from 1968-1970.

Cordelia K. Fortier, Fort Bragg

A: Queen of the Valley Academy opened as a girls’ Catholic high school in fall 1965, with classes held at St. Anthony’s Elementary School until the high school building was completed at 255 W. Bullard Ave. in February 1966.

The school was built by the then-Monterey-Fresno Roman Catholic Diocese. (The Fresno Diocese was formed in 1967.) The high school was operated by the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet.

A 1965 Fresno Bee story about bids for building the facility called the school Our Lady Queen of the Valley Academy. Sister Anne Eugene Metcalf, one of two sisters who opened the school, recalls the meaning behind its name.

“I believe the school was named by the Fresno diocese,” she said in an email. “Queen is the title of the Blessed Mother and the school was located in the Valley. Academy is the title that was frequently used for girls’ high schools  thus the name Queen of the Valley Academy.”

The $500,000 two-story school building had eight classrooms, a library, offices, a study hall, an arts and crafts room, a biology science room, a chemistry laboratory, typing rooms and lecture halls.

A boarding facility was planned next to the school but was never built. When it opened, annual tuition was $200 for Catholic students and $300 for other students.

Queen of the Valley yearbooks for 1968 and 1970 picture the girls in uniforms of plaid pleated skirts, white blouses, dark jackets, knee socks and saddle oxfords. Much like at coed high schools, Queen of the Valley students played on sports teams and held special events, including a mother-daughter tea, a father-daughter banquet, concerts and a prom.

By 1970, schools in the Fresno diocese were facing a shortage of teaching nuns and money to pay lay teachers in all its schools. A diocese official said there were no plans to close any of its 27 elementary or four high schools in Fresno, Merced and Bakersfield.

But two years later, declining enrollment forced the closure of Queen of the Valley, which held its final graduation on June 2, 1972. The diocese had envisioned an eventual enrollment of 600 for the girls’ school, but when it closed it had only 68 students.

The former girls’ school later housed Heald College for several years.

Q: In the late 1960s and early 1970s I heard radio commercials for A&M Lumber while driving to work. What can you tell me about it?

Wes Parker, Kingsburg

A: Arthur Theodore Mathews was in the timber business as early as 1943 when he bought a Fish Camp sawmill from the Sierra Sugar Pine Co., according to a 1945 Fresno Bee story. The company’s operation covered 1,200 acres of forest land.

Mathews also had a lumber mill near Auberry that employed 80 workers from April to December. In 1960 he sold the mill and 97 acres of timber land to the Kings River Lumber Corp. for more than $1 million, according to The Bee.

He founded A&M Lumber at Olive and Maple avenues prior to 1960. That year a Fresno Bee story said Mathews was building three steel storage buildings at 4583 E. Olive Ave. to be used for the Mathews Lumber Co. lumber yard and for A&M Lumber Co. The buildings covered a combined 50,000 square feet and cost $70,000.

Mathews initials “A and M” formed the company name. It’s not clear when the businesses closed.

More about: After the answer to a question about Del Rey newspapers was published on March 27, Arlyn Presley of Clovis wrote to share her memories of growing up in the small Fresno County town.

Presley, her sister and brother were born in “an old two-story house on Main Street” between the late 1920s and early 1930s. “Del Rey was such a nice little town. Our grandfather, E.R. Fantz, was a judge there for 22 years,” she wrote.

“There were four churches, a bank, a telephone office, a beauty salon, the American Legion hall, Hart’s car repair garage, Bailey’s drug store with an ice cream and cold drink bar, the packinghouse, a library, a filling station on Main Street, three or more hotels, a doctor’s office, a five-and-dime store, saloons, a hardware store, a theater – it showed only silent movies – Prairie School, and the Thompson’s, Miller’s and Sakai’s grocery stores,” Presley recalled.

The Methodist church her family attended burned down a few years ago, she said, but the packinghouse and Prairie School still are there.

“There were two big yearly events for that little town,” Presley said, recalling the Del Rey Fair “with its carousel, booths and games, farmers’ display and tractor tent.” The other event was a circus that came to town and “put up its huge tent with the sawdust floor. That was an exciting event with an open truck carrying the band, playing loudly and driving slowly all over town to advertise,” she said.

Correction: An earlier version incorrectly reported the name of A&M Lumber owner Arthur Theodore Mathews as William Matthews. The earlier version also incorrectly reported that Walter H. Aufderheide was Mathews’ partner. He was an employee.

Ask Me publishes on the second and fourth Sundays of each month. Paula Lloyd is a freelance writer. Send questions to askpaulalloyd@yahoo.com or by mail to Paula Lloyd, c/o The Fresno Bee Newsroom, 1626 E St., Fresno CA 93786. Please include your name, city of residence and a phone number.

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