ZOANNE NORDSTROM, 12/21/1933 – 2/15/2021
Glen Park has just lost one of its all-time champions.
Zoanne Nordstrom, of Surrey Street for over sixty years, passed away Monday morning, February 15, at age 87, of the Covid-19 virus.
Anyone out and about in the neighborhood would run into Zoanne, whether in earlier days when she was walking her beloved dog Max, or schmoozing with her daily coffee klatch at her favorite meeting place, Higher Grounds Café on Chenery Street. Manhal Jweinat is the owner of the coffee shop. When he would greet her and ask how she was, she’d invariably say, “I’m great—now that I’m here!”
She had three sons, Raymond Theriault; Thomas Theriault and his wife, Liberty; and Marcus Theriault and his wife, Terry; and a brother, Alan. She had three grandchildren: Charlotte, Stanley and Gwen. Zoanne predeceased her son Thomas.
Zoanne was married for about twenty years to Reginald Theriault. When they divorced, she went back to using her maiden name.
She was born in Hollywood and raised by a single mother. She worked from the age of thirteen to help support the family. While attending UC Berkeley, where she got her BA in English, she managed an apartment building to pay her tuition and expenses. She got her master’s degree in psychology from SF State, while working multiple jobs.
Reginald was a longshoreman and later a union organizer. When the children were small, Zoanne took them to the fields to pick fruit along with the migrant workers.
Her working career was at City College of San Francisco, where she was the chair of the Child Development department. She also ran the Child Development Center where, in addition to caring for the children, she taught classes for their parents in childrearing and nutrition.
It was at CCSF where she met her best friend of over forty years, Margaret (Peggy) Guichard. Peggy was chair of the Health Care Technology department. She lives in Saratoga.
Zoanne was dear friends with Roger Sanders for thirty-five years. He was the Director of the Mayor’s Office of Community Development during Willie Brown’s administration, and Zoanne served on its Citizens Committee. They were also together on the board of San Francisco Tomorrow, an environmental advocacy group. In retirement, Roger moved from Russian Hill to Oakland.
Zoanne’s activism in Glen Park and San Francisco was legendary and seemed to know no bounds.
If there’s one thing Zoanne is famous (or infamous) for, it’s for her role in the so-called Freeway Revolt.
One day Zoanne and her friend Joan Seiwald spotted a surveyor putting stakes in the ground on Bosworth Street. When he told them it was for an elevated freeway that was to run crosstown, above Glen Canyon Park, Zoanne told him, “Like hell you’ll build a freeway!” This cause celebre became known as the Freeway Revolt, and lasted from 1965 to 1970.
Along with Joan Seiwald and Geri Arkush, they campaigned relentlessly and successfully to kill the project, and earned the nickname “The Gum Tree Girls,” after the Blue Gum eucalyptus trees in the park. “It wasn’t a compliment,” noted Joan drolly. “The City Hall men hated us. We were beating them, one of the world’s greatest sins.”
The history of this event is detailed by Evelyn Rose, director and founder of the Glen Park Neighborhoods History Project, on their website:
A tribute to Zoanne by the Glen Park Neighborhoods History Project can be found at: https://glenparkhistory.wixsite.com/glenparkhistory/list-of-posts
Proposed “Circumferential Expressway ” to cross over Glen Canyon Park. Image by SFDPW, courtesy of Glen Park Neighborhoods History Project
Joan, who’s lived on Burnside Avenue for around sixty years, is now the last surviving member of the Gum Tree Girls trio. Geri died in 1999.
Zoanne and Joan were personal friends from the time their kids were small. Joan had five kids to Zoanne’s three, with boys that were the same age. “We hit it off. We were both teachers—I was a school librarian and taught English to Spanish-speaking students and social studies.”
With all they had in common, of all things, they differed in politics. Zoanne was a flaming liberal; Joan is very conservative. “So, we never brought it up, never discussed it. It was never a problem.”
Another issue that set Zoanne off, in 1996-97, was a plan to pave the gravel Alms Road in Glen Canyon Park so cars could more easily drive in to drop their kids off at the Glenridge nursery school and Silver Tree day camp deep within the park. Zoanne thought this idea was absurd and unsafe, and that part of the kids’ exercise, fresh air and recreation were about walking there and back. “It ain’t gonna happen,” Zoanne swore to Park and Rec.
She counted the cars dropping off their kids, took down the license plates, and determined that 95% of them came from outside the city. She also noted that cars would drive along the path at 25-30 mph. She told Willie Brown there needed to be a city policy that the majority of children in the programs needed to be from San Francisco, and public transportation to get there needed to be provided in the summers.
Zoanne was president of the Glen Park Association from around 1998-2002. Michael Rice was the vice president and was elected president for the next twelve years after Zoanne.
Michael has written a tribute to Zoanne:
We moved to Glen Park in 1986, and quickly learned about this varied and lively ”village” in the middle of San Francisco. Glen Canyon Park, the markets, small branch library, coffee houses, two pizzerias, and a hardware store were just steps from BART. I read the Glen Park News, in its plain Xeroxed format, and knew the Glen Park Association had monthly meetings, maybe attended a couple – traffic issues at Elk and Bosworth, or drivers going to Silver Tree for day-camp drop-offs. But about 20 years ago, I saw a meeting agenda proposing the GPA take a formal position against the new design of the DeYoung Museum in Golden Gate Park. I felt this was a misguided idea, to keep the new building “historic” in design, and, full disclosure, I was working as a consultant with the DeYoung Museum on the environmental impact report.
I called the GPA president, Zoanne Nordstrom, and asked if I could speak on this agenda item, making clear my role, as a Glen Park resident, but also as a consultant. Zoanne said “Of course. We always want to hear all sides of these issues.” After a bit more conversation, Zoanne said, “Michael, I can see you are really interested in Glen Park. Would like to be an officer? The vice president position is vacant.”
Without thinking too much, I said, “Yes.” That started a great experience, watching Zoanne run GPA meetings, firmly take on controversy, be clear on goals for the neighborhood, and over time, say “Michael, I’ve been president for a long time. When are you stepping up?”
After I became president, Zoanne was always ready to give advice, share her knowledge of City workings and opinions on Glen Park issues, and, also, tell me if I was going down a tricky path.
In these last years, I would mostly see Zoanne as she walked back from morning coffee at Higher Grounds. She’d say I was doing a great job, and I would say she had showed me the way. Zoanne showed all us the way to be a neighbor.
Zoanne wrote stories for the quarterly Glen Park News and had a challenging delivery route for the newspaper.
She was a big supporter for the library, market and housing complex that was built in the village in 2006. She knew that San Francisco had a housing shortage and she focused on supporting housing being included in the project, especially since it was near BART. She also wanted to keep the big box stores out of the neighborhood and favored the independent Canyon Market.
More recently Zoanne advocated for the Glen Park Rec Center renovation of 2016.
Unsurprisingly, Zoanne was a lifelong advocate for women’s rights and recognition, from her young life as a female managing an apartment building in Berkeley. She took a stand in all the city elections. She campaigned for Rebecca Prozan for SF supervisor because she felt strongly that there needed to be more women in elected office.
Watch a video of a campaign ad featuring Zoanne here.
In interviews with the Glen Park News, Peggy Guichard and Roger Sanders brimmed with recollections about Zoanne and her sterling qualities.
“Zoanne had an opinion about most things, and she was terrific. And she was right 99% of the time,” observed Peggy. “She never did these things for selfish reasons. She always did them with the thought of the community, the health of the children. She was really motivated by those factors.”
They cited her feisty determination that was always backed up by research and due diligence. She cared deeply about Glen Park because that’s where she and her neighbors were raising their kids.
Zoanne, Peggy, Roger and his partner Tom have been family to each other. “We traveled together, enjoyed holidays together, haunted the flea markets, and went gambling in Las Vegas (blackjack) all night on New Year’s Eve,” says Roger. She loved the terrifying rides at Great America: “Let’s do it again!” she’d enthuse.
Roger, Tom, and Zoanne went to Giants games together. Zoanne was a season ticketholder. After a few drinks at the Glen Park Station bar, they’d be in a great mood and hop on BART to the ballpark. They’d eat hot dogs and oftentimes they’d have another drink at the Station on the way back, Peggy recalled.
Peggy and Zoanne traveled together a lot, to Europe and Disneyland, among other places. Zoanne was of Norwegian heritage. Her favorite destination was Tromso, a town in Norway above the Arctic Circle, where she had family. They visited each other back and forth on a regular basis.
Her home on Surrey Street was filled with eclectic art, ranging from vintage prints of women’s fashion to works of original art.
Of the many facets of Zoanne’s life, the two things she loved most were in Glen Park:
The first was Higher Grounds Café, where she enjoyed her lattes, and the daily topics were “politics, politics and politics.” She got such pleasure when the locals recognized and greeted her there.
The other was Glen Canyon Park, especially as she got older. She was so happy that it existed, that the city invested in it, and people were using it, including those from other neighborhoods.
There’s a Glen Park history sign along Alms Road that commemorates the Gum Tree Girls era.
Roger recounted that, on their last walk through the canyon, a woman looked at Zoanne and asked, “Is this your first time here?”–right beside the plaque that has the Gum Tree Girls history on it. Roger told her Zoanne’s picture was right there! The woman couldn’t get over that, and she just wanted to talk with Zoanne. It made Zoanne’s day.
Zoanne’s health declined in recent years and, when the pandemic hit, she rarely went out. Her friends did shopping for her and brought food in.
When asked how he will remember Zoanne, Roger says, “I will miss her for the rest of my life. I will think about her every day. She was so close. And believe me, Zoanne and I had many fights. We had many arguments, but you want to know something? It didn’t make a difference.”
Of their long friendship, Peggy says, “Zoanne is the best friend I’ve had for over 40 years, and for all women, an absolute role model. In all that time the only disagreement we had was, I was a fan of term limits and she wasn’t. She was a smart, smart, savvy woman.”