Celebrating 100 Years of Oakland Technical High School
Esther Hunt McFeely ’30
When she passed away in February of 2015 at the age of 103, Esther was likely the oldest Tech alumnae. She had been living in the same house in Rockridge since her family moved to Oakland from San Francisco in 1920 when she was nine years old. Her husband, Fred McFeeley, class of 1929, grew up in the same neighborhood, and by high school, they lived on the same street, one block apart. At Tech, Esther sang in the Girls’ Glee Club with her best friend Ida May Jennings. She remembered her home economics classes where she learned to sew an apron and bake biscuits. She took commercial classes and to this day, she remembers the Gregg Shorthand she learned at Tech. In fact, she used it after graduation when she worked for many years for Dr. Stanley Fisher on Pill Hill. Much later, when her two children were in school, she again used it to take notes at PTA meetings.
On June 7, 1944, the day after the D-Day invasion, when she was 29 and he was 30, Esther and Fred, who had been courting for 11 years, got married and Esther became a stay-at-home mom. After Fred died in 1967 from cancer, Esther raised five baby chimps! Her daughter, Suzy Ruhe and her husband, Lutz Ruhe, were co-owners of the Oakland Baby Zoo in Knowland State Park (sold to the Oakland Zoo Society in 1975). When the chimps were very small, insurance wouldn’t cover them so Suzy brought them home to her mother who cared for them like pets, bottle-feeding them in her home in Rockridge.
Later, Esther went to work doing fine tailoring and alterations for Nifty Costumes, a Seattle-based company which made the uniforms for Trans International Airlines (TIA), World Airways, and the “tuxedo” theatre personnel of United Artists and Pussy Cat Theatres. Nifty used to ship her the uniforms and she would sew them right at the airport. Since she never drove, Nifty sent a taxi to pick her up every day. Esther worked for Nifty for about 8 years before retiring and devoting time to her church activities including singing in the local Presbyterian Church choir. Esther said of her old high school: “Tech graduated some very important people. It is a beautiful building.”