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Precursor to 54th annual festival
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Alfred Mathews GMC marketing manager Ron Lazaro who has chauffeured Almond Blossom queen candidates for the past dozen years is surrounded by this years hopefuls during the Almond Blossom Fashion Show on Thursday. The Modesto dealership provides two SUVs to ferry the candidates to different locations around town. On the Saturday of the parade he takes them to breakfast at 6 a.m. and then to the parade formation area. - photo by GLENN KAHL/The Bulletin

The Ripon Chamber of Commerce’s 54th Annual Almond Blossom Fashion Show at the community center paraded the eight candidates for Almond Blossom Queen down the runway before friends and family members Thursday night.
The elevated runway and crimson lighting against a white draped background added an air of elegance to the event that was emceed by Todd Davis of Sound Express and organized by Chamber President Tamra Spade.
Doug and Linda Wever sat anxiously at their table waiting to see their daughter with dad scheduled to escort Claire onto the stage as they unofficially represented all the parents in the room where they said “she’s a little excited back stage” as were all the candidates – many of whom hadn’t been part of a fashion show before.
They added that they appreciated what their daughter and the other girls had learned in social graces training preparing them for the queen’s competitions. 
“Social graces are often lost in today’s youth,” Wever said.
 The entire positive and competitive training will help them all in the future, many of the parents agreed.
U.S. Navy Captain Chuck Roots, retired, dressed in full uniform to escort a 4-year-old girl before the crowd and snapped a sharp salute as they reached the end of the runway.  Other children modeling included Presly Noceti and Kayleigh Douglas along with three Murphy children Charlotte, Anthony and Sophia.
Grand Marshals for the upcoming Almond Parade are Peter Rietkerk and Jeff Shields who will both represent the South San Joaquin Irrigation District.  They will be riding together in a car down the parade route with the festival honoring the SSJID and wore tuxedos Thursday night as they escorted Queen Amanda Neeley.
The models included  the present almond queen, Amanda Neeley and queen candidates Claire Wever, Michelle Pappas, Megan Harlan, Nalani Alhambra, Mireya Garcia, Kylie Varelas, Emily Hodges and Kaydee Cruz-Sampson.
Near the close of the event Ron Lazaro saw the queen candidates gather around him for a quick picture and “thank you” for what he has done over the last dozen years during the festival – chauffeuring the candidates on their schedules to such places as the Blue Diamond almond plant in Salida to the police and fire departments, a city council meeting, taking them to lunch as a group at Ripon Rotary, the Diamond Dog Food Plant, the Diaper Derby  and to various Ripon businesses around the city along with an early breakfast on the day of the parade at 6 a.m. and returning them to the formation area for the parade in two SUVs. 
“You name it, we’ve done it,” he said in being a sponsor of the festival from Alfred Mathews GMC in Modesto where he has long served as marketing manager. 
Volunteers for the event included Laura Roots-Spence, Queen chairperson; Carol Noceti, Helen Caetano, David Murphy, Jennifer Ogden, Mike Nash and Ardette Fassler.
The models clothing was supplied by Boutique Couture, Barbara’s, One Eleven Boutique and Tractor Supply all of Ripon.  In addition the Dressbarn and Simply Irrestible both of Manteca and Rossini’s Menswear of Modesto added to the event.

To contact Glenn Kahl, email