Aileen Hinds Colburn came from pioneer California stock. Her paternal
grandfather arrived in Tulare County by wagon train from Arkansas in 1851. His
future wife arrived also by wagon train from Kentucky via Kansas in 1865. Her Irish maternal grandfather arrived by ship as a single man from Ontario, Canada
in 1865 and her Irish maternal grandmother arrived as a single girl also by
ship from Ireland in 1867. Both couples met and married here.
Aileen Hinds Colburn was born in Frankford, Ontario, Canada in 1899 while her parents, Pete and Anna Hinds, were settling a maternal grandfather’s estate.
They returned to their home in Visalia in 1901.
The family found their way to Atwater in 1909. Pete Hinds was the local butcher on Front Street. Atwater’s July 1912 fire started in the basement of his butcher shop. The entire business block on Front Street was destroyed. After the fire he moved his shop to the Bank of Italy building on Broadway. To accommodate his family, Pete bought the abandoned Atwater Jordan school building at auction for $65 and moved it to his 13-acre property on the NW corner of Fir Avenue and First Street. The house remains on the corner in 2008. Pete Hinds donated a good portion of his property to the City for the eastern part of Ralston Park.
Aileen attended Mitchell Elementary School. Aileen was the Queen of the first Atwater Pentecostal Celebration in 1913. She went to San Jose to live with her grandmother and aunt while she attended Notre Dame High School and San Jose Normal School (which later became San Jose State College). Aileen’s maternal grandfather was the contractor who built the original buildings of the San Jose Normal School. He was very proud that his buildings withstood the 1906 earthquake while many other buildings in San Jose were destroyed. She graduated from San Jose Normal School on June 21, 1922.
She spent her first teaching year in a one-room school in eastern Tulare County where she taught all eight grades to Indian children. She was in Tulare County because her mother happened to be on the Atwater School Board and thought that it would be improper for the school to hire her daughter. Aileen returned to Atwater in 1923 (after her mother’s term had expired) and spent the next 39 years teaching children in the 4th and 5th grades at Mitchell Elementary School.
She began teaching in a two-room school building that faced Broadway in the current Post Office block. Later she moved to a new building in the same block that faced Fifth Street. Still later in 1949 she moved to the new Mitchell K-6 School on Grove Avenue. In each of those years that she taught in Atwater, she entertained her class with a wiener roast at her home on the corner of First Street and Fir Avenue.
Aileen married in 1930. She had a double wedding ceremony with her sister Marie. The ceremony was unusual for two reasons: 1) Aileen married John Colburn of Atwater (an ice deliveryman, he later served seven years as Atwater’s judge). Marie married Harold Colburn of Turlock (a pharmacist at Heller’s Drug Store, later manager of the Mariposa Drug Store). The two Colburn men were not related. 2) The ceremony took place in the rectory of Saint Mary of the Mountains Catholic Church in Ashland, Oregon. The sisters decided to have their wedding and honeymoon in Oregon. After living in Oregon for just one week, Aileen and Marie declared that they were Oregon residents and thereby obtained a wedding license in that state.
Aileen retired from teaching in 1962. Aileen recalled that the pay when she started teaching was $1200 a year and when she retired it was $7200 a year.
That same year the Atwater School District built its sixth school. They honored Aileen Colburn by naming it after her.
Aileen had a great love for children. While never having been blessed with her own, Aileen and her husband sponsored a teenager named Mary, a survivor of a Mau Mau concentration camp in Kenya, Africa. Through their support and with the assistance of the Catholic Sisters, the Colburns put Mary through school. Mary received her teaching credential. With the money that she earned as a teacher, she was able to put many of her brothers and sisters through school. After her retirement, Aileen was able to go to Kenya and visit Mary. Mary was married and had five children of her own, one of whom was named for her “grandmother” Aileen. There are many families in Atwater who have over the years seen fit to name their children after Aileen as well.
Aileen never believed there was a generation gap as many others did during the 60’s and 70’s. “I enjoy them and I am on their side” were the words of the 1969 Woman of the Year award winner.
In her retirement years she spent much of her time with family and friends traveling and just enjoying people. She devoted a lot of her time working with the Atwater Historical Society by supplying information and leads on various happenings of the past as well as pictures of her early classes. She gave of herself to every one she came in contact with. When asked if she had it to do all over again during an interview with Jack Bleiman, she told him “I’d do it all the same way”.
Aileen Colburn passed away on July 16, 1982 at Bloss Hospital. Her husband Judge John Colburn died in 1968.
Written January 31, 2008 by Roger Wood with information supplied by Nan Colburn Wolf (Aileen’s niece), Georgia Johnson (President of the Atwater Historical Society), Jack Bleiman (1982 newspaper article), and the book Brief History Of Atwater (1958)