Division of Juvenile Justice, Unlocking History

Johanna Boss’ motto was ‘never give up’

A high school at OH Close facility.
Johanna Boss High School was named in honor of a longtime educator. (DJJ file photo.)

DJJ high school named for beloved teacher

Teacher and volunteer Johanna Boss
Teacher and volunteer Johanna Boss, for whom Johanna Boss High School at O.H. Close Youth Correctional Facility was named.

The Division of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) is transitioning toward realignment to counties in the next 15 months, and much of its storied history is being explored. One example is the Johanna Boss High School at O.H. Close Youth Correctional Facility (OHC). The school is consolidating into adjacent N.A Chaderjian High School.

The fully accredited high school has been in operation since 1965. Since 1997, it has been named for a beloved teacher and volunteer, Johanna Boss. 

Johanna Boss was an immigrant, a teacher, one of the first graduates of what is now CSU Stanislaus; a survivor of Nazi occupied Holland; and a habitual doer whose longevity, perseverance and spirit of service is admirable. 

From the Netherlands to California

Johanna Boss was born Johanna van der Zwan in the Netherlands in 1908.  As a young adult, she survived as a teacher during the Great Depression. Mrs. Boss endured the Nazi occupation of Holland for five years during World War II (1940-1945), eventually settling in Northern California in 1951 with her husband, noted composer and organist Christiaan Boss.

While raising a family, Boss went on to earn her California teaching credential at fledgling Stanislaus State College (now CSUS). She was assigned to Deuel Vocational Institution in Tracy and O.H. Close Boys School in Stockton in 1961. It was there she taught math until her retirement in 1975.

Staff recall her as an inspirational and unique personality, complemented by her firm handshake and her tales of WWII. She told one OHC staff member that she was trained in martial arts and used those skills to escape a German soldier who was among those occupying her town. 

Johanna Boss begins an active retirement

Following her “retirement,” she continued to serve nearly two decades as a full time volunteer at O.H. Close, until approximately 1994, when she was 86 years old.  She often tutored youth in higher level math, with whom she was said to have a terrific rapport.

A few years later, the school was dedicated in her honor. Boss died in 2012, at the age of 104. Besides an amazing legacy of service and longevity, she left behind five children, eight grandchildren and 14 great grandchildren. Boss, whose friends called her “Jo,” was a citizen of the world who traveled to all five continents. But she was truly a pioneer, whose life experiences shaped her and she in turn, helped shape the world around her to be a better place. It’s said her motto was “never give up.” It’s clear from her life, that she never did.

By Michael Sicilia, DJJ Deputy Press Secretary

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