When Emma Kaliterna, 95, was asked how she was doing on April 30, her bubbly response was, “Fine and dandy, sweet as candy.” Surrounded by loved ones attending a “surprise” yearbook collection dedication to her in the Central Park Library’s Heritage Pavilion, the vibrant philanthropist and hairdresser had every reason to feel happy about fundraising over $100,000 for various causes through the years. The Santa Clara City Library, Triton Museum, Harris-Lass house and local schools are among some institutions that have benefited from Kaliterna’s generosity.
“Today’s event is intended to honor Emma Kaliterna for over 50 years of service to the community of Santa Clara, particularly its cultural institutions and its schools,” says Mary Hanel, local history librarian of the Santa Clara City Library.
The event began with the viewing of yearbooks from Santa Clara High School, where Kaliterna graduated from in 1938. Hanel presented to Kaliterna a scrapbook and a transcript of her oral history. Carolyn Halla, a friend of Kaliterna, gave flowers. Erin Ulrich, the library’s program coordinator of youth services, announced that the library will be hosting a series of children’s book author events, funded by an anonymous donor, in honor of Kaliterna.
Kaliterna began her fundraising efforts over 70 years ago.
“When I do someone’s hair, I don’t take tips,” Kaliterna says. “But they might give me two dollars. The two dollars goes into a fund for the schools, the libraries, or a charity. I’ve been cutting hair for 72 years. I’ve also hosted fundraising fashion shows in my backyard. At my last fashion show, I made over $7,000 in one night through ticket sales, a raffle, and refreshment sales. I gave that money to the Triton Museum.”
Kaliterna expressed being humbled by the dedication of the library’s yearbook collection and feeling moved by the testimonials of those who attended the event.
“I’m grateful to have you and Dad as my parents,” says Danielle Kaliterna, Kaliterna’s daughter. “Through my whole life, you’ve always been fundraising and doing good works for the City of Santa Clara.”
“Emma is so full of life, and from the moment we met her 42 years ago, we were friends,” says Halla, accompanied by her husband, Brian. “She taught my daughter how to French braid her hair.”
“When I first met Emma, she’d been appointed to the city’s cultural commission,” says Jennifer Sparacino, retired city manager of Santa Clara. “She was a great commissioner.”
After graduating from San Jose’s Sullivan Beauty School in 1939, Kaliterna, whose maiden name was Fontana, partnered up with another beautician to open a beauty shop on Main Street called “Fontana and Dieas.” During the 1940s, she married Mickey Kaliterna. Her husband helped her set up her own shop on 1346 Franklin Street called Emma’s Coiffures, where Kaliterna still occasionally does others’ hair.
“I’m semi-retired, so nowadays when I cut hair, that’s my social hour,” Kaliterna says. “Doing this keeps me young.”