Thelma Dalman brought healthy food to schools decades ahead of the curve

From the Santa Cruz Sentinel

When asked to describe Thelma Dalman, a local institution who pioneered one of the most progressive school lunch programs in the nation at Santa Cruz City Schools during the 1970s, family and friends at her 90th birthday party at DeLaveaga Lodge used almost every adjective in the dictionary.

Words like “generous,” “extraordinary,” “multifaceted,” “enterprising,” “a force to be reckoned with,” “powerful,” “one of the most loved women” and “admirable” are just a few.

“She’s done a lot for this community,” said Toni Dalman, Thelma’s daughter-in-law, who cited her work as director of food services at Santa Cruz City Schools as one of her many accomplishments. “She’s gone out of her way to help so many people and she’s still hopeful about the future. She can’t wait to see what happens next.”

Often referred to as the “Tofu Queen,” Thelma Dalman instigated a dietary revolution in 1972 when she eliminated almost all chemical additives from Santa Cruz City School lunches. In 1975, sugar followed suit. Just a few years later, Dalman introduced the first salad bars in elementary schools, a vegetarian alternative, whole grains and tofu, making Santa Cruz a nationwide leader in school nutrition and an example to follow for years to come.

But she didn’t stop there.

“Mom crossed so many paths,” said Dennis Dalman, her oldest son, who added the family also owned The Pie Shop on the Boardwalk in the ’70s. “She’s been an active woman her whole life.”

In addition to her school lunch program, Thelma Dalman developed the first program in California for providing meals made in schools for senior citizens. Nationally, she worked with the U.S. Department of Agriculture in an ongoing attempt to change federal meal patterns and testified before various government committees in matters pertaining to child nutrition regulations and legislation.

And at home, she managed to raise three boys. Her second son, Bill Dalman, said he enjoyed his mom’s involvement in every aspect of his life, from Cub Scouts to the PTA — “she cannot stay home,” he said, laughing.

“She has this incredible zeal for life,” said Jim Dalman, her youngest son. “And she’s always adopted new friends.”

Considering the packed lodge on Sunday, it appears as though her continued involvement around Santa Cruz — even at 90 — has multiplied her number of fans.

Her reaction to the birthday crowd was further testament to the spirit her friends and family described: “This is marvelous! I’ve never had so many hugs in my life!”