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A long running tradition
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Connie Martinez, right, was the topic of conversation sitting to the right of her mother Maria Duenas, 87 and friend Toni DeLeon Castro. Toni Castro’s late mother Eloisa delivered Connie when her mother couldn’t make it to the car from her living room. - photo by GLENN KAHL
It was a July 4th celebration where neighbors regarded each other as family in South Central Manteca.

Two homes, a block apart, hosted parties on Wetmore Street across from the just renovated Baccileiri Park and welcomed friends to share in their barbecues.

Children ran in the sprinklers and enjoyed the play equipment in the park while others set off Piccolo Pete fireworks in the street.  Two young girls tried to get higher in the air as they soared in the new swings.

The street was closed for the afternoon and evening allowing children to cross to the park as well as allowing residents to set off safe and sane fireworks at dusk.

There are reasons for the closeness of the residents – the special “family” connections – for the many who live on Wetmore Avenue, Stockton and Vine streets dating back to before the homes were built.  Some recall living in tents during home construction when Wetmore Street was still a dirt road.

One woman said her dad taught her to drive in his blue 1954 Ford on that dirt road so many years ago.

They remember when Baccileiri Park was just a dirt field and the tomato trucks parked on its north side prior to their deliveries to the Manteca Cannery the next morning.  They remember Manteca before there was a hospital here and some moms had to depend on a midwife to deliver their child.

Mother and daughter Mary May and Toni DeLeon Castro set up tables, tents to cover them, and had two barbecues going in the street.  Javier and Olivia Oregel had a jumping house and two inflatable pools for the children in addition to numerous tables for their guest to socialize and enjoy their dinner – expecting 100 to attend.

Saturday’s gathering also celebrated a baptism
Added to their day was the baptism of their 20-month-old daughter Melissa at St. Anthony’s Catholic Church earlier in the afternoon. Godparents Enrique and Martha Degortari traveled from San Bernardino in Southern California to attend the ceremony and the July 4th gathering.

Sitting at one of the tables was Manuel and Helen Payan who grew up in the neighborhood and raised their children there as well.  Retired from the LOF Glass Plant in Lathrop, Payan said he went to Lincoln Elementary School while his wife attended St. Anthony’s. He added that he was in the first class at Lincoln after it was built, being transferred from Lindberg School on North Street.

Helen said she never worked, choosing to stay home and be a housewife and mother to their two children.  Both agreed that it was a good decision because their kids did well because of their mother’s love.

Married 48 years now, the couple said it took seven years to get the play equipment installed at the park after the old swings, merry-go-round, monkey bars and slides were removed.  The only regret is that some of the kids in the neighborhood have outgrown the playground attachment, Payan said.

Payan stressed he would like to see speed bumps installed for safety of the children on Wetmore, saying that since the signal was erected at Main Street some five years ago traffic speed on has increased measurably.

James Blazin was another neighbor who was glad to be part of the celebration.  “These are special people in our neighborhood who watch out for each other,” he said.  James said he is looking forward to his 25-year East Union High School reunion that is going to be held at the River Mill in French Camp.

Mary May and Toni Castro said their little community is always concerned about the many older folks who live in their neighborhood.  When they hear an ambulance siren they are concerned it is for a neighbor of theirs who has fallen or become ill.  When it sounds close, the neighbors all go out to see if they can be a comfort, they said.

Carmen Villaneuva is another longtime resident who knows everyone and everyone knows her.  She has lived near the park for some 60 years – coming to Manteca with her family in 1947.

“I’ve always liked Manteca and the old downtown – going shopping at the Manteca Department Store, Mars, The Manteca Drug Store and the Manteca Creamery,” she said.  All those old stores have long closed their doors.  A special treat in years gone by was going to the movies at the El Rey Theater on Yosemite Avenue.

They went dancing upstairs at Odd Fellows
Both Villaneuva and Castro had memories of going dancing upstairs in the Odd Fellows building on Yosemite Avenue and at the MRPS Hall.  The Odd Fellows building now houses the Bedquarters business on the ground floor.

There was another story that came from Connie Martinez about her mother Maria Duenas, 87, and Castro’s late mom Eloisa DeLeon who acted as a midwife for her neighbor who couldn’t make it out her front door for the ride to Dameron Hospital in Stockton.

That was in 1954 before Manteca Hospital – now Doctors – was built.  Maria Duenas was openly nostalgic at the party remembering the incident quite well.  The baby weighed three pounds, seven ounces and had to be kept in an incubator.

She said several of her other five children were born in Dr. Eisner’s office on North Street.  The Manteca doctors still made house calls in the ‘50s, she said.  Their number was limited to Dr. Robert Winter, Dr. Russell Carter, Dr. George Veldstra, Dr. D.M. Yee and Eisner.

She said the doctor’s office birth was somewhat difficult because the mother was expected to get up and go home two hours after delivering their child.