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Recalling bygone almond festivals

Retired newspaper owner savors Ripon memories

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Recalling bygone almond festivals

Betty McBrian, 91, hugs her sidekick Susie who is always at her side and constantly begging for treats.

GLENN KAHL/The Bulletin


POSTED February 22, 2013 1:20 a.m.

Betty McBrian recalls the rich history of the Ripon Almond Blossom Festival when the entire celebration from the parade to the carnival took place in the city’s core with kids being able to ride their bikes to the community center festivities.

McBrian, with her late husband Leo, owned and operated the Ripon Record weekly newspaper for 22 years during those early years.  At 91 she still has fresh memories of covering the queen contests and coronations with her Leo taking the pictures and her jotting down the names.

Leo would work late into the night in his garage darkroom, she remembered, developing those pictures for their Wednesday edition.  Leo had served as a bombardier in the Army Air Corps in World War II where most of his squadron was lost in the Nazi-controlled oil fields in the Ploesti bombing raid over Romania.   He and his crew survived only because their bomber had limped home in an earlier raid and was out of commission at the time.  When their comrades took off, they had no plane available, she noted.

Sitting in her living room near downtown Ripon with her dog “Susie Bell” at her feet, Betty had a fun story to tell of how she and her husband first met at a Farm Bureau dance in Tracy before he went into the service.

She recalled that Leo had been born in Ripon in Dr. Ned Gould’s office hospital facility on West Main Street.   Her future husband had later gone to Modesto Junior College where he encouraged a friend to go with him to a dance at the two-room New Jerusalem School in Tracy that Betty had attended.

Betty chuckled when she told of Leo hatching a story with his friend conspiring that they were going to impress the girls standing on the side of the dance floor.  In trying to make conversation with the “young ladies” with a story that Leo was actually from the Alaska Territory.  He offered to show them how the Alaskans kiss and rub noses to show affection.

She explained that the Farm Bureau dances were open to entire families and Betty’s mother wouldn’t consider staying home.  She was seated near the dance floor and she was observing all that was going on with the young buck who claimed to be from Alaska.

Fearing the girls were being duped, she motioned to Leo to come over to where she was sitting and focusing on who was approaching her 19-year-old daughter. 

“What is your mother’s name,” she asked Leo.  “I know your mother.” The two women had grown up together in Lathrop and both later moved to Ripon, she told him.  After she revealed their friendship, he knew he had been had for the moment, Betty said.

While Leo had gone to Ripon High, Betty graduated from Tracy High School and went on to Humphrey’s Business College in Stockton.

With the McBrian family home located near the police department, Betty remembers Halloween nights the best, especially when Officer Red Nutt – later becoming the Chief of Police – would bring in kids for unacceptable pranks along with their many flats of unthrown eggs that were being used for target practice on homes and cars.

The newspaper had been in the McBrian family for generations. She clearly remembers her mother-in-law Mary setting lead type on the Line-O-Type machine for some 45 years.

Betty said she wishes the community had Mul back – the late Mrs. Mulholland who started the festival – “when we could really feel the heart of the community.”  She remembered that Mul and her six daughters and her husband rode in parades all over the country and knew everyone they could coax into coming to Ripon’s festival.

“One year it rained so hard on the parade we had to sit under the awning in front of the office.  The horses were so irritated by the downpour they came up on the sidewalk where we were standing to get under the awnings,” she said.

Daughters Sharon and Katie ran from the horses and then went into the office and got umbrellas and gave them to the queen and her court riding in open cars to help them stave off the torrent.

Another fond memory she shared was about their son Bob who now lives with her to give her the support she needs.  She recalled that Harry’s Garage was just beyond the alley behind their home and Bob looked up to that that mechanic.

Bob was little past being a toddler riding his tricycle over to the garage, saying, “I need an oil change!”

She said there was one year where a whole group of “Brits” were in the states for training and came into Ripon for the festival and the parade. 

“That’s when the city council ruled no more alcohol outside on the streets – they were buying six packs of beer and putting them on the curbs ‘til it got warm enough they could drink it,” she laughed.

Currently Betty continues to play bridge twice a month in her home and in the homes of friends with two tables of friends enjoying each others’ company.

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