On a bright blue-sky Tuesday evening, Esther Garrett Hamilton returned to her family, close friends and Lord on Oct. 1, 2019. An intelligent, kind, accepting and energetic woman, she loved learning, valued friends and treasured family. Esther passed away quietly as she wished, at home, having enjoyed a good day amongst loving caregivers and family. She was blessed to have lived on the West Side for all but ten of her one-hundred-and-one years, building life-long friendships and creating priceless family moments.
Born, April 27, 1918, in San Francisco, CA, during World War I, to Charles and Anna (Solomon) Garrett of Williams, CA, she spent her first three years on the family’s dairy before they eventually settled in Vernalis, CA. The youngest of four children, she greatly admired her much older brother, Robert; sister, Annabelle and half-sister, Helen. From their parents, they learned to do their best, try their hardest and to help those in need. Anna and Charles taught at Rising Sun School from 1923 to their retirement in 1940. Esther grew up living in the remodeled teacherage with the Rising Sun school grounds as her play yard. An exceptional student, she attended local schools, graduating from Rising Sun at twelve and Patterson High School, at sixteen. She was editor of the yearbook her senior year and active in offices and clubs. She followed her mother, brother, and sister to U. C. Berkeley, where she played on the tennis team as a freshman. A natural athlete, her tennis skills and grace were to serve her well on the courts into her seventies. At the end of her freshman year, she married her high school sweetheart, Glenn H. Hamilton, son of a pioneer West Side ranching family. Esther transferred to Stanford University, where she and Glenn started a family. She juggled being a wife, mother and student, while working as a bookkeeper earning $.25 an hour. Graduating in 1939, they moved from San Francisco to southern California as Glenn moved up in Carnation Company management and she typed his company reports late into the night. For Esther and Glenn, family was key and they returned to the Hamilton ranch near Westley in 1942 when Glenn and his brothers took over running the ranch from their ailing father. She cradled the growing family, mastering the endless mounds of diapers, laundry and dishes.
Esther and Glenn were to live on the West Side and raise a family of eight children over the next thirty years. They gave their children great freedom to explore within limits, creating warm memories of ranch life and conversations over nightly sit-down dinners. From an early age, she provided her children with a creative view of the world, filling the home with classic books, three daily newspapers, multiple magazines, recordings that spanned the Dorseys, Disney and Dvorak and art prints that could be found on the walls of castles, churches and cafes the world over.
The family moved from the ranch in 1961 into Patterson where Esther was to continue to live for the next fifty-eight years. She set an example of “can do” spirit, filling the house with valued family traditions and rescued treasures. She sewed costumes and clothing, refurbished distressed furniture, recovered walls in need of updating and laid down new linoleum, making a “house” a “home.” She stirred pots of savory sauces and divided up legendary sticky rolls among the eagerly offered plates. Esther took pride in daily dishing out well-balanced nutritious meals, usually made without a recipe, always filled with love. She did this while teaching and doing everyday household chores. Her children watched and learned to appreciate the possibilities and offerings of a life well lived.
Esther was a life-long advocate of education and community participation. She taught seventh grade and special education at Grayson and Las Palmas Schools for over twenty-five years. All her children graduated from college; five became teachers. She was a long-term member and officer in the local parent/teacher associations (PTA), the Patterson Study Club, Patterson Bridge Club and the Federated Church, where she was an elder. Beginning in the late 1940s, Esther and Glenn were active at the Del Rio Country Club and the Turlock Country Club. As a life member of the Patterson Historical Society, she helped preserve local stories writing articles for the society’s bulletin, The Gateway. Esther acted upon her dream of being a writer by taking classes, engaging an agent and writing poems for her grandchildren as well as submitting short stories to magazines. She also greatly enjoyed being a part of a local writing group. In 1961, believing it was a wonderful opportunity to open the family and community to a wider world, she and Glenn welcomed an Ethiopian American Field Service (AFS) student, Fana Hapteab, into the family, echoing her love of people and future adventures.
Suddenly widowed at fifty-six, Esther remade her life. With the support of family and close friends, she chose to “Find a little joy in each day”. She searched cluttered tables at local flea markets and crowded foreign bazaars, looking for just the right treasure to bring back for her children and grandchildren. An anxious optimist, once she decided to venture forth, she forged ahead, traveling around the world twice and visiting all the continents, except Antarctica. She sailed down the Yangtse River, slept in a yurt in Ulan Bator, Mongolia, graced the bench in front of the Taj Mahal in India and climbed Tikal’s steep temple stairs in the jungles of Guatemala. Esther was sensitive to those in the community and around the world who are often over-looked, vulnerable and less fortunate. In the journals that she kept of her travels, she recounted thoughtfully her encounters with every-day people and the challenges of their lives. She never learned to ride a bike and hesitated to ride a horse, but she strengthened her own confidence and surprised her family by learning to fly a Cessna-150 when she was about sixty.
Esther left a special legacy of warm family gatherings that bound her family more closely together and created indelible memories. “Coming home” meant being greeted with delicious foods, adventures and engaging stories that were enjoyed across the generations. Nothing was better to her than filling her home with wonderful smells, colorful decorations, mounds of Christmas gifts, warm hugs and smiles, open doors and arms. After her children were grown, Esther blessed her family with summer vacations at the coast where they could “catch up” and cousins could get to know each other better. Her children and grandchildren remember fondly diving into ice cream treats at the Santa Cruz boardwalk, singing songs on the beach at night, paddling a flotilla of kayaks on Monterey Bay and creating amazing themed parties filled with plays, songs and birthday celebrations. A lover of fashion and design, she was equally appreciative and admiring of a stylish knit dress as well as a home-made scrap wood sailboat, a specially-selected and signed rock paperweight or a bright marking pen inscribed decorator pillow, made by young grandchildren just for her. She greeted and unwrapped each gift with excitement, anticipation, smiles and joy as she enthusiastically exchanged hugs with the young gift giver. Esther and Glenn created a special place where shoes got tied, life was lived, family was welcome and adventures celebrated. Her family members know they are blessed to have her as their mother, grandmother and great-grandmother.
The family are thankful and appreciative of the loving care and support offered by the many caregivers and housekeepers Esther had over the past twenty years. Particularly, they are grateful for the skill, joy and brightness that she received in the past challenging year from Alma S., Adriana A., Cindy S., Katrina W., Anna I. and Lilly S. The family honors the months and years of help, respect and service gifted Esther at the close of her life by all who entered it.
She was preceded in death by her husband, Glenn; son-in-laws, Galen Schmidt and Lee Shattuck; and, daughter, Patricia Hanggi. She is survived by seven children: Kay (Tom) Miller of Palo Alto; Donna (Keith) Ensminger of Sonora, CA; Marilyn Schmidt of Eagle, ID; Gail Hamilton-Shattuck of San Francisco, CA; Marsha Hamilton of Patterson; Chris (Nick Lucich) Hamilton of Fresno, CA; son, Robert Hamilton of San Francisco, CA; and son-in-law, Dennis Hanggi of Ketchum, ID. She is the proud grandmother of eleven grandchildren: Matt (Jenna) Miller of Tampa Bay, FL; Kathy Miller Kelley of Los Angeles, CA; Kurt (Tiffany) Ensminger in Escondido, CA; Karl Ensminger, Eureka, CA; Kyle (Jessica) Ensminger of Oakdale, CA; Valerie (Darryl) Gray of Auburn, WA; Stephanie (Tom) Egen of Star, ID; Teryn (Tom) Rikert of Mill Valley, CA; Kristen (Rob) Hamm of Eugene, OR; Paul Lucich of Providence, RI and Clare (Andy Nguyen) Lucich of Cote de Caza, CA; and, twenty great-grandchildren. Her family misses her, honors her, celebrates her life and the many gifts she freely gave.
The family asks that all those who wish to celebrate Esther’s life of service to others make a memorial donation in her name to the Federated Church at 45 S. El Circulo Ave., Patterson, CA 95363. A private family service will be held at a future date with burial in the historic Grayson Cemetery next to her husband and daughter.