Edith Frost, a substitute teacher for both Mountain View and Los Altos, calls herself retired after teaching English for 20 years. She now enjoys leisures such as skydiving, flying her solo plane, riding motorcycles, traveling to other continents and, of course, bowling on Friday afternoons. As a mother of three and a grandmother of four, she looks forward to celebrating her 80th birthday with her family this August. Her first 79 years have been anything but conventional.
Frost was born on her grandfather’s farm in Oklahoma before moving to South San Francisco. In the early 1950s, after graduating from South San Francisco High School, she worked as an underwriter for an insurance company on Montgomery Street, typing insurance manuals.
“We all went to work in San Francisco,” Frost said. “We’d catch the train and we’d go to work and carry our high heels and go to [Third Street] and you know all the winos would holler at us and we’d walk by. But I actually fell in love with a young man.”
Frost met this young man during her last year of high school and the two fell in love.
“I said I have to go to college and he said, ‘Well, I’m going to join the Marines,’” Frost said. “‘So when you get out of college and I get four years out of the Marines then we’ll get married.’”
But the Korean War had other plans for her first love.
“Six months later they sent him back in a casket with his dog tags and a check for 10,000 dollars,” Frost said.
She saved the letters they exchanged during the war in the bottom drawer of her dresser throughout two marriages. In honor of the 60th anniversary of the Korean War, Frost reread and burned each letter individually.
“My first love is why I became an anti-war person,” Frost said. “During the Vietnam War, I participated in all the marches, put medals on my children and went through that whole process because I realized World War II was really the last war we fought for any reason at all. First love is always something very special. I don’t think you ever really get over it.”
But at twenty, Frost had the rest of her life ahead of her.
“This other young man in church who’d always been trying to get me to go out with him—well I thought ‘I’ll never love another man in my whole life and this was a good man’, so I married him,” Frost said. “Just because my mother said he was wonderful and he’d make a good father, and she was right: he was a good father and a good provider and all of that.”
Because her new husband was in the business of construction, the new couple moved to Menlo Park so that he could be President of the Menlo Park Carpenters. They then moved to Palo Alto and finally to Mountain View with their three children.
Frost decided that if she was going to be so close to San Jose State and Foothill College, she would go back to school and pick up some credits. Frost said she’d wanted to be a teacher for as long as she can remember, and even began teaching Sunday school at her church when she was 16. She still teaches Bible class at her church in Mountain View today. But at the time, she worked at a purity store in downtown Los Altos.
“I took my first class at Foothill during my lunch hour,” Frost said. “I asked my boss if I could have 15 minutes added on to my lunch hour and I would work 15 minutes past the time I was supposed to be back. And I thought well, if I like it, I’ll take more. And I did, of course. So I went from that time on.”
When Frost went to Foothill College, there was a law in California that women couldn’t wear pants to school; they had to wear dresses or skirts.The problem quickly became apparent. Foothill was placed on top of a hill, with no bus service at the time. Girls would wear pants under their skirts so they could bike to class, or tape the ends of their skirt to their ankles so it wouldn’t fly up as they walked. Frost thought the whole situation was crazy.
“We formulated a group from each town and went to Sacramento,” Frost said. “We said, ‘We have to put an end to this prejudice against women’ so they lightened up and they said, ‘Okay. Women can wear pants to school.’ So I remember the first time I went up to Foothill and the professor said, ‘I see Ms. Pierceson has on her long pants today.’ So I got up on the chair and turned around in a circle.”
While working towards becoming a teacher, Frost decided she would get started on another one of her life goals: to become a pilot.
“I was on my grandfather’s farm in Oklahoma visiting when an airplane went over my head and I said, ‘Someday I’m going to learn to fly an airplane’ and he used to say, ‘If I didn’t know you were born in this house I would think that we got the wrong child, because you’re never going to be flying airplanes,’” Frost said.
But Frost’s grandfather wasn’t the only one with doubts. When she tried to sign up for ground school at Foothill, she was told the program was only for men.
“Well you know how that went over,” Frost said. “Like a lead balloon.”
Frost got “her women” together, a group of women she’d met upon going back to school at San Jose State. They called themselves the “Over 29” Club, and were mostly women who had decided to go back to school after having children or who decided that they did want their education. The group shared coffee while they studied, and organized ride groups. Many of these friends are still close with Frost today.
“None of them wanted to fly or anything but they helped me,” Frost said. “So they had to let me in. The idea that only men were able to go to ground school? That was not acceptable.”
After finishing school at Foothill and San Jose State, Frost got her first teaching job at Los Altos High School. She was then transferred to the Downtown Mountain View High School, which no longer exists, and finally settled at Awalt High School, or what is now Mountain View High School. There, she taught an interdisciplinary humanities class in the the Gifted Learners program, a precursor for Advanced Placement. For example, she would teach Anne Frank, World War II, German composers and Dutch painters all together. The program was well funded by the state, and the class took regular field trips to the ballet and Exploratorium before being replaced.
While working at Mountain View, Frost took her next step towards earning her pilot’s license. After learning a colleague’s husband taught flying lessons at San Jose airport, Frost asked to be taken as a student. She arrived at the small, private airport a few Saturdays later ready for her first private lesson. At the time, Frost was in her late thirties with three young children, teaching high school during the day and then English classes to army recruiters at night from seven to ten. She said that she made as much money teaching for three hours in the evening as she did all morning and afternoon. Because her husband had passed away, she had to supplement her income. But after her first flying lesson, Frost never looked back. She eventually got her license to fly solo planes and in the process, met her second husband.
“So I go into the airport and this man is sitting there and he says to me, ‘Could I help you?’ and I said ‘No, I’m meeting my instructor here. I’m going to learn how to fly.” Frost said. “But when I came back from my lesson, he said to me, ‘I am going to fly over to Watsonville for lunch; would you like to come along?’”
After a very long lunch and much talking, Frost just thought to herself, ‘yeah, okay.’
“When I came back (from a concert), my husband had taken a bucket of water and washed my car. He probably never washed his own car–he was a wealthy man–and I thought ‘he really cares for me,’” Frost said. “I had other men in my life and my girls were pushing for the plastic surgeon in Los Gatos, but no.”
As a WWII veteran and a member of the Flying Tigers, her second husband owned a small plane that Frost called his true love. During the war, he flew across the Himalayas from China and back to report weather conditions; in the United States, upon returning from the war, he worked as a Trans World Airlines weather forecaster before starting his own vitamin and minerals company with a friend from the war. It took Frost five years to decide she would marry him.
“He’s what you’d call a perfect person for you, when you realized it,” Frost said. “We could finish each other’s sentences, we liked … [and] did everything the same.”
They married in the ‘80s, and flew his small plane together every weekend they could. Because her husband was diabetic, he was no longer medically able to fly alone and couldn’t pilot the plane without Frost accompanying him.
In 1991, Frost took an early retirement from teaching at Mountain View High School. Her husband had been diagnosed with diabetes fifteen years prior, and Frost knew he didn’t have many years left. So for an entire year, they traveled all over the country as well as parts of Mexico and Canada. They returned just after Frost’s 59th birthday; her husband passed away the following February.
Soon after, looking for a way to continue with her life, Frost joined the Mid-Peninsula Widows and Widowers Association, a program designed to provide social support and activities to people whose spouses have recently passed. With nearly 300 members, the trips and activities organized were nearly endless, but Frost proposed a new one: skydiving.
“People said, ‘Is this serious here?’” Frost said. “But I’d always wanted to do that even though my husband said ‘nobody jumps out of a perfectly good airplane’. So when he passed away, it was still on my bucket list.”
After her first jump with two women from her program, Frost proceeded to go on a second, third and fourth jump, and is now such an expert she is trusted to open her own chute anywhere above the red line on her watch altimeter.
“Kids always talk when I tell them about it, so I say ‘Tell your parents you want to go for graduation!’” Frost said.
But her love of adrenaline didn’t stop there. One of the men from Widows and Widowers was very into motorcycles and it rubbed off on her. Before she knew it, Frost found herself on a Yamaha 750, her nephew’s motorcycle that he let her use every time she visited.
But a few years after her husband’s passing, Frost still felt like something was missing.
“I wasn’t happy because I realized I had to retire before I was ready,” Frost said. “Teaching was my whole goal in life.”
So Frost became a substitute teacher for Los Altos and Mountain View High Schools. She still flies her plane to visit friends in Bakersfield and Tuscon, Arizona, and participates extensively in both her church and the Widows and Widowers program. Frost has also traveled to more than 15 different countries in the past 30 years including Russia, Panama and South Africa.
“My daughter said the other day ‘Mom, how is your retirement fund?’” Frost said. “And I said ‘There is no retirement fund.’ I have retired so I’ve spent it basically. I said that’s what it’s for, that’s why I saved it.”
So as Frost continues ‘retirement,’ she has an upcoming trip to Sierra Leone, Africa where she plans to help put in a water well. She is also waiting for her visa to Cuba to be cleared so she can set up a Bible school with her church.
Frost doesn’t see herself slowing down anytime soon. For the next twenty years, Frost looks forward to hopefully becoming a great grandmother and seeing a female president. Still on her bucket list? To bungee jump off of a bridge in South America. (She’s been saving that one, she said.) And, of course, she intends to continue teaching.
“There’s nothing like youth and questions. And the interest they have in learning new things.” Frost said.