Header Graphic
Mrs. Joan Reiner-Wilson 1930-2013
Photo is from 1961-1962 school year.


Now when it comes to Mrs. Reiner, well, I had a crush on her. I actually daydreamed that she’d stop getting older so I could catch up and marry her! 


She was such an elegant lady in an understated way, and brilliant. She grew up in a German-American family in New York, and once or twice mentioned how her elderly mother would still fix “heavy German dinners” — a meat dish, several vegetable dishes, potatoes, bread rolls, and then a dessert. 


Mrs. Reiner graduated from Barnard College, next to Columbia University, and in these days, they were female only and a male only schools, respectively. She said with a smile, “I never went over the wall,” meaning to fool around with boys from Columbia. 


She had the knowledge and sophistication of an intellectual, yet remained warm and accessible to her students and colleagues. She had a natural dignity. 


My class with Mrs. Reiner was American History in the summer of 1965. I looked forward to her class every day, and hiked the two miles to school from the duplex where I lived at South Basque and Valencia Drive. It was a sweltering hot summer, too, and the summer of the Watts Riots. What sticks out in my memory is how we read THE JUNGLE by Upton Sinclair, and learned the sad story of Yurgis Rudkus, who worked in the slaughter yards. 


As a 16 year old, I had the bright idea once of writing about what would have happened if Nazi Germany had won World War Two. Mrs. Reiner said, “That wouldn’t be history, Paul. That would be speculation.” 


I can't remember if Mrs. Reiner took us on a field trip to the Huntington Museum in San Marino, where we met historian Ray Allen Billington, or it if was Mrs. Randolph in Senior Seminar. He was a biographer of the historian Frederick Jackson Turner, who developed the Frontier Thesis (see link below). I was impressed that pour teachers knew such people, and it was my very first taste of scholarship near the college level, and as they say, heady stuff. 


Mrs. Reiner drew the very best from us. She spoke in a level voice, and when she smiled and laughed, she was reserved. 


I was disappointed that 1965-1966 was Mrs. Reiner’s last year at Sunny Hills, because she’d become the Assistant Principal or Principal at Sonora High School in La Habra. I was one of the students who enjoyed talking to her between classes and after school. 


There is a way a good teacher listens to students and treats them as young adults, worthy of respect and attention. Mrs. Reiner was that way, and she gave good counsel. I never saw her again after she left Sunny Hills. 


Her obituary tells us:


“In 1972, she moved to the Santa Ana Unified School District to become principal of Santa Ana High School and, in 1974, to the Jurupa Unified School District in Rubidoux to become assistant superintendent of education services.


In 1978, she accepted the position of superintendent of schools for the South Pasadena Unified School District. As a South Pasadena resident, she became actively involved in the community, which she continued after becoming a professor at Cal State L.A. 


She completed her Ed.D. in educational administration at UCLA with great distinction.


While at Cal State L.A., Joan was responsible for the restructuring of the curriculum in school finance. She also actively encouraged women to become administrators and educational leaders. As acting associate dean of graduate studies and research, she administered several grants, produced a graduate studies brochure, and edited university and school guidelines and procedures to conform to the California Education Code.


As executive vice president, she led Pacific States University in obtaining accreditation from the Accreditation Council for Independent Colleges and Schools. She also acted as the international liaison for overseas students who needed to meet Immigration and Naturalization Service guidelines for American study.


A member of many state and national professional organizations, Joan received honors and awards, both local and international, from entities ranging from the Southwest Museum in Los Angeles, where she was a trustee (1993-2013), and Arizona State University (Distinguished Visiting Professor, 1991) to the Republic of Korea (1989 and 1984) and the Soviet Teacher's Union (1988). She also received faculty development program and research/study awards from Cal State L.A. (1989-90) and a Woman of Achievement Award from Business and Professional Women of Los Angeles (1981).


Joan's involvement in the community included Friends of the Caltech Libraries, Friends of the South Pasadena Public Library, and the Pasadena Symphony. She was a member of the South Pasadena Chamber of Commerce, holding the position of vice president from 1980 to1983. She became a member of the Board of Directors of the Southwest Museum Collector's Club in 1989 after having served as president and vice president, and then joined the Autry Museum Board. With all this, Joan still managed to maintain her role as a member of the Board of Directors for the Friends of Education at Cal State L.A.


Widowed in 1977 when her husband Dr. Charles Wilson, chancellor of the North Orange County Community College District in Fullerton, died. Joan is survived by sisters, Carol and Paula, three stepchildren and seven nieces and nephews.


A memorial was held at the Atheneum at Caltech on September 21, 2013.”


I’m grateful I met Mrs. Reiner and became her student. I’ve always remembered her, and it’s an inspiration to know there are people like her. 


Dr. Cindy Hall Ranii, 65 was another student-friend of Mrs. Reiner, and stayed in touch with her into the 2000s. Cindy, of course, became a principal of several high schools. 




That American History class had Marsha McClanahan, Bill Shockley, Randy McDonald, Lindee Hammond, John Robson, Craig Scott, and others. A great class.


Add Comment

There are currently no comments.

Add Comment



Mrs. Reiner’s obituary: 


Frederick Jackson Turner: