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Esther “Pearl” Van Hook

Entrepreneur, CHS proctor, woman of faith

Esther “Pearl” Van Hook, a beloved Claremont High School proctor, died on May 1, 2013 at her home in Claremont. She was 88.

Mrs. Van Hook was born on October 2, 1924 in Waco, Texas to Willie and Carrie Thomas. She became a pioneering black female entrepreneur when,

as a young mother with 3 children, she founded a cosmetology school in Waco, educating hundreds of young women. When that school closed, she worked at the Truman Beauty School.

She relocated to Claremont, California in 1979 after marrying Lonnie Van Hook, who was a microbiologist employed by Lanterman State Hospital and who served in the United States military. Mrs. Van Hook was employed for many years at Claremont High School as lead proctor. Many of the students she helped supervise have expressed their admiration.

“She ran that school like she was the boss, and could control the most obnoxious kid with just a glance,” Danny Schreiber (CHS ’99) said. “But she was also there to nurture, support and help out anyone in need. She will be truly missed.”

Mrs. Van Hook made an equally strong impression on Danny’s brother, Darren Schreiber (CHS ‘88).

“I can still remember her voice clearly in my mind more than 25 years later,” he shared. “She was a wonderful woman and a very strong figure at the school. It’s rare for someone to be so authoritative and so loved.”

Mrs. Van Hook’s voice still resonates with another CHS alumna, Jennifer Stark (CHS ’87), who fondly remembers “pearls” of wisdom like, “Girl, where are you supposed to be?”, “You better get there, because that was 5 minutes ago,” and “Oh, honey, I’m praying for you.”

“She was interested in getting people where they needed to be for their own best interest, not to get them in trouble. She was all about students’ success and happiness,” Ms. Stark said. “She was very sweet—just a nice person.”

As a tribute to her hard work and dedication, students and faculty gave Mrs. Van Hook a football letterman’s jacket engraved in her honor. Her family also remembers another less official but no less fitting tribute to her impact on CHS. In 1996, her house was TP’d and her car was signed in toothpaste, “We love you, Pearl!” by the CHS water polo team.

As befitting a memorable woman, Mrs. Van Hook had many unforgettable experiences over the years. She had the opportunity to shake hands and meet with Vice President Lyndon Johnson and Senator Hubert Humphrey, who went on to become the president and vice president of the United States, respectively. She also attended a sit-down dinner with President Harry Truman, who was the cousin of her employer.

Mrs. Van Hook met Ambassador Andrew Young and Shirley Chisholm, who was the first African-American woman elected to Congress.  She had the once-in-a-lifetime honor of shaking hands with Coretta Scott King, widow of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. She also met Ralph Abernathy, a Civil Rights leader who marched with Dr. King, at a banquet held at Paul Quinn College, a prestigious, historically black college located in Waco, Texas.

Mrs. Van Hook was known for her style, and for her color-coordinated collection of hats. Appearances aside, however, faith was the foundation of her life. Before she fell ill, she devoted considerable years of service to 2 local churches, including 19 years at Second Baptist in Monrovia, where she was president of the Mother’s Board, and many years at Antioch Baptist Church in Pomona.

“She had a true love for serving our Lord, Jesus Christ,” family shared. “She was a positive role model, who believed in human kindness. She devoted much of her time and energy to helping others achieve their goals.”

Mrs. Van Hook’s family wants to thank their friends for sending well-wishes and prayers to Pearl who, they emphasized, was a remarkable woman.

“She loved young people and traveling, had dignity and grace, and was a great mother to many besides her immediate family,” her daughter, Lynda DiAlo, expressed.

Mrs. Van Hook was preceded in death by her only sister, Ruthie Mae Hicks of Waco, Texas, in 2006. She is survived by her 3 children, Lynda J. DiAlo and her husband Dr. Boubakary DiAlo of Claremont, Lee Baldwin of Rialto and Hank Baldwin of Hesperia, California; by her grandchildren, Chaye’  Moussa, Darell L. Baldwin, Carl Baldwin, Correy Baldwin, Dora Baldwin, Brandon Baldwin, Angela Baldwin, Anthony Baldwin, Steven Collins, Melinda Manning, Christopher Manning and Davar Manning; by 6 local great-grandchildren, Rafael Archer Moussa, Darell Jaden Baldwin, Nehamiah Nicole Baldwin, Maliah Michelle Baldwin, Romeo Samej Baldwin and Paris Amiyah Baldwin; by a niece and her husband, Debra Sue and Bill Wilkerson of Waco, Texas, and by their sons, Bronshay and Jeremy Hicks; and by a nephew, Roderick Hicks. She is also survived  by the extended Alvarado family, Rudy, Christina, Ashley, Little Rudy, Sergio, Matthew, Sam, Israel, Joanna and Anahid, who lovingly referred to her as “Sugar Mama.”

Memorial services were recently held at San Dimas Community UCC Church in San Dimas and a private burial will be held at Riverside National Cemetery. Memorial donations may be made to the San Dimas Community Church UCC, 216 N. San Dimas Avenue, San Dimas, CA 91773.

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