Goodbye to the late Donna Traylor Altieri

Born in Haverhill, Massachusetts in 1937, passed away in Sacramento, California in 2022

Goodbye to the late Donna Traylor Altieri
by Bob Nielsen 

Donna Traylor Altieri taught Spanish and French at San Juan High School for almost 30 years. She retired in 1995. She was born in Haverhill, Massachusetts in 1937. She and her family left their home in Massachusetts. Her father hated the snow.

Donna especially liked to cook with her students. Hot plates were hard on the old circuits at San Juan. Often her neighboring teacher’s rooms went dark. The kids loved to make French and Spanish food and eat it.

Donna believed that you could learn outside of the classroom, so she took her students often on little adventures. Taco Bell Across the street was a favorite. Her students had to communicate their order in Spanish. Along the way they had to identify sidewalks, signal lights, telephone poles and just about everything in Spanish or French. Her students enjoyed these kinds of activities; any excuse to get away from the confines of a classroom.

Donna and I became good friends after she arrived at San Juan. We didn’t agree on politics, but we certainly agreed on student’s rights and how they should be taught.

After our spouses left us in the mid-70s, we became very good friends. We traveled a lot together. We celebrated the Millennium by traveling around the world on a cruise ship for 120 days. A rainy night in a tent in Oregon convinced us to buy a camper van. We put a lot of miles on the little van cruising around the USA. 

Donna liked to play golf with Helen Phillips (the wife of John Phillips, a math department chairman), and several of our favorite PE teachers, like Marcie Davis and Jeannie Woodard. She loved to swim at a local health club. During the pandemic, she couldn’t do these things. She suffered from kidney failure and spent a lot of time sleeping. Our last trip was to Cleveland, Ohio to my Navy reunion and a visit to friends that traveled with us around the world. I got a workout. Donna was wheelchair-bound.

Donna always wanted adventures for her students. An airplane ride to see the King Tut exhibit. San Francisco and Berkeley were good places to learn about the world. We took our five children, 35 San Juan Students and a single chaperone (Ellie Mahoney, a dearly loved secretary at San Juan) to Mazatlan for a week aboard a World War II train. What an adventure. No space here for the details. That trip is recorded in my “Travels with Donna”. Like John Steinbeck’s, “Travels with Charley”. Donna fit the bill.

We often told people we were engaged for 38 years, and finally on April 1, 2015, we tied the knot in a very private ceremony. Just the two of us and the justice of the peace. A pact; never tell anyone, even our children. The first one that did owed the other a hundred dollar bill. It finally leaked out, not sure who the leaker was.

The first thing on the agenda, at the first faculty meeting was always the tardy policy. I hear that’s even so to this very day. Donna had a tardy policy. If you were later than she was, you were tardy.

Donna died peacefully on October 14, 2022. I was bedside. Donna wanted no obituary, no flowers, no celebration of life. I asked people to send me stories about Donna that I could share. They have been amazing. Donna was able to view a video of the youngest Ambassador ever appointed by the United States, past San Juan student, Tracy Jacobson. Tracy told the world what a positive Influence DONNA had been on her life.

We were invited to visit Tracey at her many posts around the world. Our only visit was Washington DC, where Tracy was an Aide to President Bill Clinton. President Clinton was annoyed that she could beat him at cards. No Monica style advances. Regrets for the places in the world we could have visited.

Please send me your favorite stories about a San Juan faculty or staff member. Along with your story, I will create shareable archive. At this point I’m not sure of the venue but it will happen.

Footnote: Ambassador Tracey Jacobson (Thomas), a career member of the Senior Foreign Service, Class of Career Minister, arrived in Addis Ababa on February 25, 2022 to begin her assignment as Chargé d’Affaires at the U.S. Embassy in Ethiopia.

Donna Traylor Altieri
Donna Traylor Altieri and Bob Nielsen
Donna Traylor Altieri and Bob Nielsen


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