Who Is Mary E. Silveira?

Mary E. Silveira 1900~1982

Her Childhood

August and Maria Gaspar immigrated from the Portuguese Azores Islands in the late 1890s and established their home at 1005 Third Street, San Rafael. Although now converted for nonresidential use, the house still stands. A modest but sizeable dwelling it well-served the growing Gaspar family. August and Maria were loving parents to eight children: four daughters and four sons (two of whom died at an early age.)

Mary Elaine was the eldest of the children; she was born on April 19, 1900. She, like her three sisters, (Augusta, Anne, and Eva,) was educated by the Dominican nuns of San Rafael. The Dominican nuns were excellent teachers and were undoubtedly responsible for Mary's beautiful and distinctive penmanship, love of reading, and genuine respect for learning. This young lady would become, during her adulthood, an advocate of quality education within the Dixie District. Anne, Mary's sister, also demonstrated a strong commitment to the District: she served as a Dixie school teacher during the early days when there were only 20 pupils and one little white schoolhouse (now located on Las Gallinas Avenue).

Early Adult Years

In 1917 Mary married Anthony F. Silveira. Anthony had immigrated from the Portuguese Azores Islands in 1897. Only three years later when 14 years old, this bright and ambitious young man bought the Miller Ranch business. The property known today as the Silveira Ranch, on the northern boundary of San Rafael, was in the late 1800s, part of the 1200-acre Miller Ranch.

The Miller Ranch included property which is on both sides of today's Highway 101: the property east of today's 101 was dairy pastureland and oat hayfields, while the property west of the 101 included pastureland, hayfields, vineyard, ranch buildings, and the Miller Mansion. Mary E. Silveira School stands where the Miller Ranch vineyards grew. By the time Mary and Anthony married, Anthony's dairy business was well-established. The dairy produced Grade-A milk that was transported to San Francisco for processing. From 1900 to 1914 the milk was taken to the Miller Station Depot for pick-up by the North Sonoma Railroad for delivery to San Francisco. In 1914, the milk transport was changed from rail to trucks purchased by Silveira.

Mary and Anthony complemented each other well. Mary devoted herself to running the busy home, while Anthony continued to build and diversify his business ventures as well as provide leadership within the Marin community and dairy industry.

Starting in 1919, Anthony bought the land now known as the Silveira Ranch. In 1929 he founded Marin Dairymen's Milk Company, Ltd., known as Marin Dell--'the milk your children deserve.' The business, operated in San Francisco, received and processed milk from Marin dairies (including Silveira's) and sold that milk exclusively to independent grocers in the Bay Area. Marin-Dell eventually became Foremost Milk Company. The Silveira dairy was the first to be unionized in the Northbay (1932.) In 1937 Anthony founded Dairyman's Milling Company, a feed business which still exists and is based in Novato. Beyond the local scene, he was a strong advocate of state legislation that established pricing standards protecting not only the milk producer but also the consumer.

Although extremely busy as a businessman, Anthony was equally committed to the Marin community. His numerous activities included service as a trustee of the Dixie School District during its early and formative years. In 1937 Anthony Silveira moved his family and dairy operation to the property on the east side what is today's Highway 101. This was the Silveiras' new home and it was there that Anthony died in a ranch accident on October 7, 1937.

So at the age of 37, Mary was a widow left with seven children (all minors). Being a single parent to such a large family was in itself a formidable task, however Mary resolutely assumed all the responsibilities necessary to carry on what her husband had accomplished and what she, too, so strongly believed in. Those responsibilities included operation of the family dairy business (Mary's sons eventually became her business partners); directorship of Marin-Dell (until 1954), and service as trustee of the Dixie School District. Mary served as a trustee from 1938 to 1956--a very important period in the school district's history.

During those years the Dixie school system greatly expanded to provide quality education for children within the growing community. Mary's dedication to the district was reciprocated in 1953 when a newly built elementary school in Marinwood was dedicated to her and named 'Mary E. Silveira School.' Mary was tremendously proud of the school and considered it a great honor to be recognized in such a special way

The Later Years

The 1960s were difficult years. Health problems and the stress associated with two family tragedies limited the range of Mary's activities. Due to these circumstances, responsibilities beyond the scope of her family and business were not possible. Health problems persisted throughout the 1970s; Mary died on December 26, 1982. Ironically, the school was closed (due to declining student enrollment) shortly after her death.

Mary Silveira is survived by two sisters, three sons, two daughters, and their families. Mary E. will be always a part of their lives; now with the school reopening in 1991, she 'is back' to be part of yours.

Renee F. Silveira

Contact Us

Mary E. Silveira Elementary School
Dixie School District

375 Blackstone Drive
San Rafael, CA 94903

(415) 492-3741

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