Lily Kompaniez (B.A. ’40) remembers when UCLA’s campus consisted of just a few buildings – Moore Hall, Powell Library, Royce Hall, Haines Hall, and the Humanities building – amidst acres of farm land and orchards. While studying education under the tutelage of Corinne Seeds, Lily worked in the orchards that edged campus, serving as an assistant in the Agricultural Department. Securing this job through the National Youth Administration, a New Deal agency tasked with finding work for youth during the Great Depression, Lily assisted Dr. Ralph Beals and the department in cultivating UCLA’s orchards to determine what new crops might grow in climates similar to Southern California. “It was a great job,” she says. “I got to play in the orchard all day, picking and eating tropical fruits.”
Lily graduated from Roosevelt High School in 1936 and continued to live in Boyle Heights while in college, commuting to UCLA, where she began her studies as a Spanish major. While she hated studying Latin, which was mandatory in those days, Lily loved Spanish, which she had begun learning on the playgrounds of Belvedere Junior High School. As a high school senior, Lily won the LA City Oratorical Contest in Spanish. She enrolled at UCLA with the plan of one day emulating a favorite Belvedere teacher, who had encouraged her interest in the language.
Quickly coming to admire Corinne Seeds for her open, progressive, and innovative approach to teaching, however, Lily switched her major to education.
“Corinne was one of the most wonderful people. She trained us so well and made us feel that as teachers we were making a difference. She was very inspiring,” says Lily. “[Ms. Seeds] was an entrepreneur in using theater and play acting as a learning tool in the classroom. In the morning we would teach reading, writing and arithmetic, and the afternoons were [structured around] drama[tic play].”
Further detailing Ms. Seeds’ method, Lily describes the “famous Seeds Box” that education majors were required to create just before beginning their student teacher training. The Seeds Box was a file box of lesson plans and other classroom artifacts that related to a single theme or unit selected by the student of elementary education. For example, if a student chose “trains” as the theme of his or her Seeds Box, he or she might create a math lesson plan teaching children how to measure the size, volume, and mass of a train; a physics lesson on the force and motion of a train as it speeds down the tracks or comes to a stop at a station; a social studies lesson on the history of trains and the Industrial Revolution; and an English lesson in which the class would be instructed to write a story about trains using new vocabulary. All of the lesson plans would be submitted along with a model train, props, dolls made out of clothespins, for example, and other artifacts as part of the Seed Box for grading. The idea behind the Seed Box was to encourage teachers to think creatively about how to engage students and encourage their learning through thematic instruction and dramatic play. According to Lily, “they were often quite elaborate” and were designed to introduce aspiring teachers to the qualities and skills that are essential to becoming an effective teacher; namely discipline, hard work, and creativity.
While attaining her teaching credential, Lily worked as Ms. Seeds’ assistant and taught other teachers in summer school. She found this to be excellent training for her later career as an instructor at the University of Redlands Education School.
“I loved teaching other teachers how to teach and thinking of innovative projects and instructional methods that would make a difference in a student’s learning,” she says. “We had so many fabulous resources and supplies. [After graduating,] it was a shock to enter LAUSD schools, which lacked the equipment and resources we had grown accustomed to at UCLA.”
Despite her excellent training and academic performance at UCLA, Lily struggled to get a teaching job upon her graduation because of her Jewish heritage. After being turned down at a number of schools across Los Angeles, she finally got a job in Victorville, where the superintendent “didn’t ask for [her] last name.” At the time, Victorville was a “tiny, one horse town with no library,” Lily recalls. “I had to take the train and the bus to Victorville every day, schlepping suitcases full of books back and forth.”
After getting married, Lily was hired at Redlands and later at the Fairburn Avenue School, where she taught elementary and junior high and offered Spanish lessons at home to Brandeis students. She moved out of Boyle Heights and into an apartment in Beverly Hills, where she could walk to Wilshire and take the bus to school. By then, the country was in the midst of World War II. Lily remembers singing war songs in class and walking down 26th Street past camouflaged buildings that had been converted into wartime factories where planes were built. “Everyone was afraid the Japanese would bomb Los Angeles,” Lily says. She remembers the ‘Black Out Nights,’ when schools, buildings, and homes were directed to shut off their lights and cover their windows with black curtains to hide from planes flying over the city at night. “It was a scary time.”
In the 1960s, Lily was an active member of the Mar Vista Democratic Club, serving as its Vice President and as a Special Delegate of Adlai Stevenson II during his race against John F. Kennedy for the Democratic Party bid. She remembers sitting next to Eleanor Roosevelt, who was also serving as a Stevenson Delegate, at a Democratic Party Convention in Downtown LA.
“Although Stevenson was eloquent that night,” Lily recalls, “Once Kennedy spoke we all knew he would be the party’s choice. Mrs. Roosevelt leaned in to me and whispered, ‘Our boy is going to lose!’”
After Kennedy was nominated, Lily was one of his campaign leaders in Los Angeles and helped to get a record turn out on election day. She was then invited to the White House for the Inaugural Ball, which she was unable to attend. “It is my biggest regret,” she says, looking back, “but I did create my own Inaugural Ball here at the Santa Inez Inn for all of our volunteers!”
Outside of teaching, Lily’s other main passion in life is the Lake Arrowhead community. Having summered up at the lake with her family as a child, Lily continues to spend much of her time there and is an active member of the water and ski club, where she currently serves as Membership Chair. She was also involved for many years with the Brandeis Library Reading Group, which had a book club that often met in her home before it disbanded. Now splitting her time between her homes in Los Angeles and in Lake Arrowhead, she enjoys spending time with her family and friends and developing her talents as an accomplished artist, creating beautiful copper and enamel landscapes, portraits, and still-lifes.