The Legacy of Nora Cunningham
Nora Nestor was born in Kilquane, Ireland, a small village in County Limerick. This was farming country where sheep outnumbered citizens, where the lush green countryside served as the cattle’s dining room…just like you would imagine it to be.
Nora Nestor joined a family with nine other sisters and brothers. In depression torn Ireland, at the age of 11 months, Nora went to live with her aunt and uncle in Rathfarra. She returned to her biological family at age 14.
A bright, steel willed youngster, Nora was sent to a boarding school where Gaelic was spoken, which she didn’t speak, and at her request, she was transferred to an English-speaking school.
After finishing high school, Nora entered a convent—her goal was to become a nun for the Columban Sisters. After graduating from college, the sisters decreed that Nora should go to the Philippines to establish a Montessori school, which was becoming very popular in Europe, though not yet so in America.
Nora got as far as Los Angeles and circumstances prevented her from going to the Philippines, so she decided to leave the Sisters and applied to the Pope for a dispensation, which was granted.
In Los Angeles, Nora was intent on establishing her own Montessori school. She believed strongly in the principals of Maria Montessori and applied for a teaching credential from her association, then run by Dr. Montessori’s son Mario, who administered her final test, approving her appointment. “He was tough…it was a very difficult time for me.” She passed.
She searched for a location in Orange County and briefly rented four classrooms in another school, but that did not meet her needs for growth, so she decided to relocate with her own property. She was fortunate to find this wonderful craftsman home in Orange, owned by Emile and Martha Shanackenberg, who had arrived from Nebraska in 1910. She was so impressed with this wonderfully designed home that was still in mint condition, as well as the property, which had several outbuildings, so with the help of friends, her offer to purchase the home was accepted: although she had to guarantee that she would always maintain the home in its original condition. Which she has.
Classes started in 1980, and soon her vision of providing an authentic Montessori education was finally fulfilled. Later, Far Horizons came to include room for over 180 students from Preschool, Elementary and Junior High School.
What is unique about Nora’s story is her vision for helping students attend Far Horizons Montessori School. Far Horizons only charges a bare minimum of tuition—$620 per month for a full day of education from Preschool through Junior high, but they also provide enrichment classes (which other schools charge for) in music, science, computers, dance and physical education—all for the same low monthly tuition.
A philosophy based on kindness and understanding.
Remembering her time growing up in Ireland, Nora firmly believes that “we don’t hold children back. This is where they come to learn and find themselves early in life. We don’t punish students. We believe we can always help each student solve most problems, and we do, especially students who have difficulty learning in a traditional setting. I am proud of our students, their parents and especially proud of our staff and teachers. They know that my door is always open…any student or staff member can come into my office to talk. We are a family here…and have been for over 40 years.”