Nursery school director Gayle Nathe dies

Director at First Congregational Church taught generations of local toddlers

Gayle Nathe, who touched the lives of countless families as a teacher and director of the First Congregational Church Nursery School of Palo Alto, died Wednesday night (March 2) at her Palo Alto home. She was 64.

Nathe taught at the popular preschool for 33 years, starting in 1978.

She was introduced to the nursery school when her older daughter, Tristan, enrolled in 1973, and she began teaching there in 1978.

Nathe balked a few years later when offered a promotion to school director.

"She was none too sure she wanted that job," Nathe's husband, Don Nathe, recalled Thursday.

"She said, 'I don't want to be director -- I want to jump in mud puddles with the kids,'" Don Nathe remembered her saying.

After assurances that she would be able to do both, Nathe accepted the job and -- until a recent recurrence of breast cancer -- continued as both a teacher and school director.

She is remembered by generations of children and parents for her warm and playful personality and her elaborate collection of artistic frogs. The frogs -- reflecting the travels of many nursery school students and friends -- were displayed behind glass near a small table, where Nathe personally greeted each child at the beginning of each day, pinning bird-shaped name tags on their shirts.

Her husband said Nathe's teaching philosophy could be summed up in a quote from Janet Gonzalez-Mena -- "There is a beautiful child inside every child. Put your energy into finding that child" -- and Ralph Waldo Emerson's, "It is a happy talent to know how to play."

She loved children's literature, with Mem Fox's "Whoever You Are" a particular favorite.

Born Gayle Tallo, she was raised in Honolulu, where she graduated from Maryknoll School.

She moved to the mainland to attend Seattle University, where she met Don Nathe. The two married in Honolulu in 1968 and moved to Palo Alto two years later.

Nathe completed her undergraduate education, which included a credential in early childhood education, at San Jose State University and California State University, East Bay.

Before joining the nursery school staff, Nathe spent several years caring for neighborhood children in her home.

Nathe loved the ocean and spending time with her grandchildren. Even before her own diagnosis of breast cancer, she volunteered with Breast Cancer Connections (formerly the Community Breast Health Project), a nonprofit resource center for people facing breast cancer.

Besides her husband of 42 years, she is survived by her mother, Gladys Tallo of Palo Alto; her brother Bryan Tallo of Kailua, Hawaii; her daughters, Tristan of Oakland and Alayna of Santa Cruz; and her three grandchildren, Teagan, Kirra and Kadin.

A memorial service is tentatively set for April 9, with details pending.

Memorial contributions may be made to the Gayle Nathe Fund of First Congregational Church Nursery School, 1985 Louis Road, Palo Alto, CA 94303, or to Breast Cancer Connections, 390 Cambridge Ave., Palo Alto, CA 94306.

Proceeds from the Gayle Nathe Fund will go toward improvements to the school's vegetable and sunflower garden and toward other "green" activities at the school campus.

Chris Kenrick

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