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Franscella helped put Ripon VFW on the map
Ripon VFW Commander John Franscella is completing his third term at the helm of the south county post on West Ripon Road. He is standing in front of a map of Vietnam where he served three tours with the U.S. Navy. - photo by GLENN KAHL

RIPON – Commander of the Veterans of Foreign Wars’ Post 1051 in Ripon, John Franscella, has served three tours aboard the U.S.S. Hancock assigned to the F-8 Fighter Squadron in the Gulf of Tonkin between 1968 and 1970.

Franscella has also served three terms in the last four years as commander of the Ripon VFW post that is now generating national recognition for its membership and its operation.  

The Ripon home of some 300 VFW members received “All State” honors in 2013 and 2014 before being recognized on the national level for its accomplishments across the board.  The membership has increased by another 10 percent this past year, Franscella said.

“We are at 112 percent in 15th place out of 700 posts,” he noted.  “It’s like an eBay bidding war where everybody is waiting until the last minute to post their numbers.  It’s my understanding that National will actually pay to fly the winning post commanders back east to receive their awards.”

Franscella pointed out that one key reason for Ripon’s accomplished past is the men’s and ladies’ auxiliaries and how hard they work to keep the large facility operating to the best of its ability.  “It’s quite an undertaking to have a post this size open seven days a week,” he said.  “I would like to think it’s (esprit de corps) with less of I and me and more of we.  The auxiliaries have one advantage over us,” he quipped, “because they are younger.”

One member of the Ladies’ Auxiliary who is a standout for her passion to keep the post active and attractive to newcomers is Patricia Risner who danced with Ann Margaret in Bob Hope’s USO shows overseas.  Risner always has a smile and approaches everything with her work ethic and passion with her love for people being paramount. 

The post commander said when he joined the Ripon veterans in 1990; people like Al Janke and Adrian Fondse were the last of the old gang running the operation representing World War II and Korea – now it’s the Vietnam vets in the leadership.

The post originally operated out of Tokyo Joe’s in Lathrop, before moving to what  later became a trailer court on Manteca’s Moffat Boulevard known as Shady Acres in 1984. It once served as a motel with an abandoned building on the site.   The membership purchased the Ripon location in 2001 and received the permit to operate in 2003, according to Past Commander Adrian Fondse.  

The VFW chartered with some 30 members and is now close to some 300 active in the post.  Fondse said the group has been getting a lot of Desert Storm vets as well as Iraqi Freedom, and Afghanistan.  Another Ripon native, Richard Uecker, Jr., just recently joined, he said. 

They walk in the door for the first time and Fondse is quick to hand them an application to join, he said.  Counting all three VFW groups including the Men’s Auxiliary and the Ladies’ Auxiliary the team is 650 members strong and growing.    Its canteen is open to the membership and their guests 365 days a year with regularly scheduled dinner and breakfasts coming out of a relatively new stainless steel kitchen.  The members are required to use a personal pass card to gain entrance.

“We are trying to get vets from Iraq and Afghanistan to come in,” Risner said.  “Counselors from the Veterans Administration are here one night a month.  We also visit veterans at Palo Alto Veterans Hospital giving them blankets and afghans to let them know we care.”

A collage of Ripon soldiers, sailors and Marines photographs on the VFW wall tell the story of those who gave their lives from the First World War through Korea and Vietnam.

They include Clinton McCausland, Army,  who died in November 1918, Herman Tornga, Army, died 10-15-1944; John Smit, Army, died 4-30-’45; Wayne Coe, Army, died 1-8-’45; John Van Andel, Navy, 10-9-’44; Raymond Clifton, Army, died 4-17-‘43’ Lyman Fulton, Navy, died 10-27-’42; Oscar Poelstra, Army, died 8-28-’44; William C. Heller, Air Corps, died 9-9-’43; James Buster Heller, Navy Air, died 8-23-’42; Henry Bouma, Air Corps, died 12-31-’44; Radomir Kalok, Army, died 7-12-’44; Paul Madsen, Navy, died 6-4-’42; John Jack Harp, Army, died 12-20-’44; John Kamps, Marine, died 12-27-’43; Carl Peterson, Army, died 8-27-’45; Viggo Peterson, Navy, 3-27-’45; Arthur D. Freshour, Army, Korea, died 11-7-51; Gary Van Tol, Army, Vietnam, died 6-13-’68; George Courtrakis, Marines, Vietnam, died 7-2-’67; and Joseph Perry, Army, died 10-2-’06.