Updated: Sep 11, 2018
There was a time when Almaden Valley only had a two-lane road. It is a time that Arlene Kolte remembers well, and a time when her favorite things to do were climb the hills and the trees and go swimming in the Santa Clara Valley Water District’s percolation ponds. In fact, her dad planted two redwood trees in 1946 that now line the parking lot of the Santa Clara Valley Water District. They stand there today, named the Kolte Redwoods, with a plaque they added years later in honor of Arlene’s father and her mother. Long before Almaden Valley was ever considered a part of San Jose, it was country, unincorporated land. It wasn’t exactly a popular place as it was far out and took some effort to get to but it had its joys and small wonders. Before the water district was built up the land was all cow pastures. Arlene’s property had a barbed wire fence and cows on the other side, and across the street the land was nothing but orchards. They had to cross the street to go get their mail and she laughed when remembering how the mailman must have lost the lottery on choosing mail routes because it was so out in the middle of nowhere.
There was an old red barn standing not far off that she guessed was there for the apricot industry. It’s long gone now, though. Almaden Lake wasn’t there but there was a channel that the kids would swim down. “It was so cold because it was very deep.” She said when talking about the water. Arlene went to high school at Pioneer but most of her older siblings had gone to Campbell, Camden and Willow Glen High because Pioneer hadn’t been built yet. Her sister, Nancy, transferred from Willow Glen High to Pioneer as a Junior and was part of the second graduating class in 1962 before Leland was built in ’66.
When asked her thoughts about Almaden Valley, Arlene replied “It’s funny. I loved Almaden Valley as a child but hated it when I was a teenager because I was stuck in the sticks and couldn’t wait to leave. Then I learned to value it again and came back.” She was born and raised in Almaden Valley, moved away at 18 and lived lots of different places before moving back in 1975. Her friends who lived in tract homes loved to come to visit because it was a nice change from the more urban parts of San Jose and was so peaceful. She remembers laying in a field of weeds and watching the clouds go by and thinking to herself, “You know what, I’m spoiled rotten because I can do anything I want.”
Arlene was a Girl Scout when she was a child. At the intersection of Almaden road and Branham there was a grocery store where she sold girl scout cookies. She laughed and recalled a time when she sold the same box of cookies three times to someone coming out of the bar next door to the store. She says “There were three grocery stores on that one intersection, including the building that is now there as the auto parts store. It was 6 miles to downtown San Jose, so if you really needed something you just went to Robertsville at the corner of Almaden and Branham, otherwise it was far to go dowtown to get what you needed.”
“I remember Club Almaden in New Almaden, even though it’s called new Almaden it’s really old Almaden, and Club Almaden [now called Casa Grande] was where we went swimming in a real pool. That was the main hangout, between here and there, and there was also a field along the way to Club Almaden with some buffalo grazing in the pastures.” As a kid, she loved to check out the buffalo though the reason why they were there has always been a mystery to her. All I could find out was that a local farmer kept them for pets.
Many things in Almaden Valley have changed, in Arlene’s opinion, but it's more than that. “Everything has changed, I have so much empathy for the things you kids have to face nowadays. We had a blissful childhood, we got to believe in things and in people. I think it’s difficult to tell people ‘don’t trust anyone.’ We didn’t lock doors, if someone came by you wanted them to be able to get in, to use the phone or get some water but now that is not a thing at all.” She misses the peace and tranquility of the old days. “Sometimes you say the heck with it, I'm going to trust them anyway, and then sometimes you say, how foolish am I being. You can't be too trusting. And that’s a shame.”
Arlene was a pioneer for women in those days, she had wanted to go to school to be an engineer but at the time, it was unheard of for a woman to do a job like that. A counselor in school had told her, “You don’t want to get grades that are too good because you don’t want to appear too smart for your husband” which offended her. Arlene went to San Jose State for college. She wanted to go for engineering school but since women didn’t do that she ended up with two degrees. The first was in special education and the second was in CIS computer information systems. Arlene defied the norm and pushed herself to do what she loved regardless of what was expected of women. She had a job she loved so she worked to maintain what she loved. Sometimes she wished she had been braver and had done it sooner, but she doesn’t regret her choices.
She gave some advice for kids in their early teens, “To be the best you can at everything. A lot of times teen girls are talked out of the potential they have and are not worried about it until a certain age but then the world changes. Resist with all your might.”
Taking inventory at an electronics components store was her first job. It was called Weatherbie Industrial electronics. Anything she did she needed a car to get there so she took her driving test the morning of her 16th birthday. By the Air Force base up on Mt Umunhum there is a big hill and for whatever reason, they did the drivers training up the hill, she had a brave brave instructor, that’s where she learned to drive. She remembers thinking,“Boy I think you might be trusting us a bit too much.” Once she got her license all her friends decided to try to get onto the base; they let them in the gate only to turn the car around and then they had to get out. Now Mt. Umunhum is open to the public but it used to be all military and when Arlene was in 6th grade one of her friends lived up there and she had to come down from the base every day for school. They used to have a big star up on top of Mt. Umunhum for Christmas that they would light up but they took it down for reasons unknown.
Arlene comes from a very Danish family who share a love of food and Christmas. Her favorite memories of their family traditions are decorating the tree with garlands of little Danish flags and enjoying rice pudding. They Bedstemor (Danish for grandmother) would dish up individual bowls of rice pudding and one of them had an almond hidden in it, the person who got the almond won a prize. As far as hobbies go, Arlene enjoys playing bridge, golfing, reading and going to the symphony and Broadway San Jose. She also loves watching sports, particularly football and baseball.
Her parents had an excellent work ethic. In the country, unlike living in the city, you not only have your day job but also have daily work at home. “My dad did any number of things to provide for 6 kids, he had so many jobs, and when he retired he was a clerk of the Superior Court." Her mom was a teacher her whole life and she ended up retiring from San Jose State as a professor. Her whole educational career was spent there on that campus and she ended up teaching teachers how to teach.
The schooling, figuring out to go for what she wanted rather than what was expected, and finding out it’s okay to be who she was, is what Arlene is most proud of. She joined a business with four other engineers and she loved it, she would have gone to work with them whether they had paid her or not. Arlene is lovely person who is passionate about her life and is another member of the community that makes Almaden Valley such an amazing place.