La Jolla Centenarians: Lifelong teacher, traveler Grace White likes the people and climate of La Jolla

Editor’s Note:

As part of

La Jolla Light’s

100th publishing anniversary this year, we are featuring interviews with fellow centenarians throughout 2013. If you know a La Jollan who is 100 years old, please e-mail

or call

(858) 875-5950


By Ashley Mackin

Grace White may have lived in La Jolla since 1980, but the 100-year-old teacher has traveled the world and lived in towns across the United States.

“I always taught school, my whole life was teaching school,” she said. White was born on her father’s farm in Joliet, Illinois on March 18, 1913. When she was young, the state bought the farm and built a prison on the land, so her family moved to Iowa, and then to Brownsville, Texas.

While in Texas, she went to a junior college to earn a teaching degree. After five years of studying, she was sent into the town to teach.

“Jobs were never a problem for me,” she said. “I was lucky in my teaching career.”

She earned a master’s degree at the University of Northern Colorado and taught at the demonstration school there. Though she said she enjoyed living in Colorado, her next move was to Montclair, New Jersey to teach. White said she couldn’t teach today, due to the lack of discipline she sees in modern students.

Despite all the moving, she settled down long enough to get married. She was married to her first husband, Joe Zahrenger, for more than 20 years before he died. The two did not have any children. She continued her teaching career in New Jersey throughout her marriage.

White was widowed for quite some time before she started dating the man who would become her second husband, Leland M. White. He was also a traveler and a consultant to the Malaysian Water Board. The two were friends for years before they married, and White knew Leland’s first wife.

The couple traveled to England, Italy, parts of Africa, and of course, Malaysia, from where they would take side trips, seemingly at random. “(Leland) would just look at the globe and say, ‘This time we’re going here,’ and point.

“I enjoyed Malaysia very much. It opened my eyes to the world. They have a differ- ent religion, a different way of life, a different set of be- liefs, it was just a new world.”

When Leland died in 1978, White moved to La Jolla at the suggestion of her stepdaughter. “I was living in New Jersey and she said, ‘Why don’t you live in La Jolla?’ And I said, ‘Why not?’ So here I am,” White explained.

It was a good suggestion, too, because White said La Jolla is her favorite of all the places she’s lived. “The climate is so lovely and people are so nice,” she said.

When she initially moved to La Jolla, she lived in the Shores where she enjoyed walking her dogs, Montgomery and Chrissy, which is how everyone came to know her. She said when she receives her Meals on Wheels deliveries, “People still ask me, ‘Didn’t you used to have a dog, named Montgomery?’ ”

She belonged to the La Jolla Woman’s Club and the Scripps’ Mariscos Eye Center.

Her only ailment now is that she is losing her eyesight due to glaucoma. White said she can no longer watch television or read, so instead, she listens to the news on the radio and to audio books — one of few technologies she loves.

Calling them “Books for Braille,” White said they are a “godsend.” She just finished a book on George Washington. “I like mysteries, and Braille has a new machine out. They have cartridges the size of a domino ... it’s wonderful.”

While acknowledging the struggle of slowly losing her sight, White said she keeps a positive attitude and never worries. “I’m not a worrier; whatever happens, happens. I don’t worry,” she said. “How do you think I got to be 100?”