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CELEBRATION MARCH 7
Tule Fog Fete features Caswell granddaughter
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Mary Caswell Bucknam’s son Bill lets his hand and facial gestures speak as he tries to assist his mother in the hanging of her exhibit at the Civic Center’s council chambers in Manteca. The granddaughter of Thomas Caswell who donated the park named in his memory will have her exhibit at the Civic Center through May. - photo by ROSE ALBANO RISSO
Bluegrass music, live animals that are native to the area, guided nature walks and various hands-on educational experiences are on tap for the annual Tule Fog Fete set for March 7 at Caswell State Memorial Park just south of Manteca on Austin Road.

But there will be one more attraction at the family-oriented Sunday celebration that has never been offered before: an opportunity for guests to meet in person someone who, as a little girl before the 1920s, enjoyed picnics with her family beneath the stand of majestic oak trees and frolicked on the thick pile of grass with her sisters and cousins.

That person is Mary Olivia Caswell Bucknam, the granddaughter of Thomas Caswell, the philanthropic farmer who donated the land that later became a state park bearing his family’s name. A retired teacher and an artist by avocation, the fit and spry 97-year-old who just celebrated her birthday on Feb. 6 has a lot of happy memories visiting this place with her parents, grandparents and siblings as well as a host of cousins. To the family, this was simply The Ripon Ranch.

As recently as December 2010 just before Christmas, Bucknam was at Caswell Park painting in watercolor one of the scenes at the park. That painting, “Tom Caswell’s Family has a Picnic with Mary,” is one of about a dozen of her original watercolors currently on exhibit in the council chambers at the Manteca Civic Center, 1001 W. Center Street. They are all paintings of various scenes at Caswell Park. In the “Picnic” painting, she was the little girl, Mary, in the picture with her grandfather and members of the family. Their picnic table was set above the bluff overlooking the Stanislaus River and beneath the canopy of the towering oak trees.

An almost similar scene, except the oak trees look much younger in the picture, shows another family picnic outing with the extended family. “Picnic at Grandpa’s Ranch in 1942” in color was painted from a black-and-white photograph ca. 1942.

During the hanging of her paintings at the Civic Center a week ago, Bucknam said she may even bring her easel and do a demonstration painting at the Tule Fog Fete celebration. She was excited about the prospect of being a part of this year’s fog fete, and was looking forward to be back at her family’s old haunts.

Her name and that of her two sisters – Ruth Jorgensen and Edith Wheeler – are etched on a stone marker that you can see immediately to the right once you pass the ranger’s booth at the entrance. Younger sister Edith passed away several years ago. Middle sister Ruth still lives in Salida but is too ill to attend the Tule Fog Fete event.

For those who would like to see the Caswell Park Watercolors exhibit of Bucknam at the Manteca Civic Center, the paintings are available for viewing during regular business hours through May.

The Tule Fog Fete will be held from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Admission is $5 per person or $15 for each carload. In case of inclement weather, the event will be cancelled and moved to March 21. The last time the event was cancelled due to a storm was in 2006.

To get to Caswell Memorial State Park, take Highway 99 to the Austin Road exit and head south until the road dead-ends at the park.

The Tule Fog Fete is a fund-raising event benefiting the Great Valley Museum, a nonprofit foundation dedicated to providing science and natural history information to adults and children through classes, programs and exhibit. The museum serves families in the Stanislaus, San Joaquin and surrounding counties.

The museum serves the families of Stanislaus, San Joaquin, and surrounding counties. For more information on the Tule Fog Fete or the Great Valley Museum, call (209) 575-6196.