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Hundreds help mark start of Christmas in Manteca
Manteca Mayor Willie Weatherford gets ready to pick a lucky youngster to help light the city tree. - photo by HIME ROMERO

Six-year-old Brock Martin got the honor of helping Manteca Mayor Willie Weatherford to flip the switch lighting the city’s Christmas tree with its thousands of lights Thursday night in front of city hall.

Brock had come to the 6:30 p.m. festivities with his older sister Gabriel, 8, and his mother Amy. They were there with a number of other children who gathered to watch the lighting ceremonies as well as a fire baton troupe perform.

Weatherford asked the children in the audience to gather around him and think of a number between one and 1,000 for the opportunity to help him switch on the colorful lights on the tree.  Brock had guessed 70 – the exact number the mayor had in his mind.

Cheers erupted from the crowd as the light bulbs illuminated the night sky with yuletide spirit .

Asked what he wanted for Christmas, the first grader answered without hesitation: “I want to spend time with Jesus, because it is his birthday.”  Asked where he was going to find Him, he responded, “He is right here next to me.”

A confidential question asked of the young boy, “What are you going to get your Dad for Christmas?”  He whispered in a most serious tone, “A wallet – someone steeled it.”

The crowd of various family members walked over to the Manteca Senior Center where a number of Parks and Recreation groups such as the Graffiti Sweeties performed .

Solo twirling acts on stage were performed by national baton champions Cameo Humphrey, Baylee Pine and Julia Sawin led by instructor Dandy Manuel herself first a national champion at the age of 5 in competition that took place in Washington, D.C.

While some 200 parents and family members were watching from their seats,  the children flocked to the floor area at the foot of the stage where they were about to hear former Mayor Jack Snyder read “The Night before Christmas” and finally see Santa appear next to a large Christmas tree.  There were about 100 youngsters crowded at his feet.

Snyder ending 23 year Christmas tradition

It was Snyder’s final reading of the legendary Christmas story to a group of children just like he had done for the last 23 years at the Senior Center – and with his own four children as they were growing up in Manteca.

Snyder often has adults come up to him in public and tell him they remember his reading to them when they were children. Some are surprised that he is still telling the story for the Christmas event.  It all started for him with the building of the Senior Center and the advent of its related holiday activities.

With its construction on limited funding,  the City Council realized they probably needed a larger facility,  but they didn’t have enough money to do anything more, Snyder said. 

Snyder has two sons and two daughters, 11 grandchildren and five great grandchildren from his first marriage with his late first wife, Rosie.  He took the time to tell the audience how he met his second wife, Barbara, introducing her in the audience and adding that they have had a wonderful life together.

She added much to his family with five grandchildren and two great grandchildren – 16 in all making for a fun Christmas with those who can make it home for the holidays to see his Christmas room in his home and his village of 65 lighted houses in a grand display.

Snyder read to his children, Scott, Steve, Sue Ann and Sherri, on the night before Christmas as they were getting ready for bed years ago. Now, much older, they are scattered across the country with their own families.  Children in the community, as well as his own grandchildren today,  are a love of his life as he has proven by reading for countless hours to them, many at the Manteca Library Story Hour that was created years ago by Margaret Johnson.

Daughter Sue Ann, who lives just down the street from the Snyders, had two of her young grandchildren at the Senior Center to hear Grandpa’s “Night Before Christmas” last night.

“I always enjoyed reading it,” he said. “It’s been an enjoyable time.  I have always enjoyed reading to kids.  I look forward to it,” Snyder said.

“It’s their reactions.  Their eyes get big and they are smiling.  It is almost like they are in a different world,” he said. 

Snyder has a deep appreciation for family,  having been born in 1926 and growing up through the Great Depression. 

“No one had a lot of money and you might get one toy for Christmas and maybe some clothes, if any,” he said.  “My mother had blue lights on the tree and silver tinsel she put on the tree by hand – a single strand at a time.   Dad would get up on the roof and stomp his feet to make like Santa was coming,” he remembered.

The former mayor and longtime city councilman said his family in the 1930s visited his grandparents at Christmas one year when there was two feet of snow on the ground.  They had to park their car half a mile away and trudge through the drifts to their frame farmhouse with its potbelly stove and a wood stove in the kitchen.  There was no electricity and all very rustic he said, but it was family.

He remembered his grandparents’ Christmas tree as having paper ornaments and candles for lights. 

“I always enjoyed Christmas because we didn’t have a lot,” he said.  “Getting the kids all together is a special time for us,” he mused. 

Proving that point, he enjoys showing off his Christmas Village he has built in a back bedroom of his Manteca home.  The 65 houses in the display are complete with interior lights that line the snow filled streets where ice skaters perform and horse drawn sleighs slide down the avenues.

Snyder is still a boy at heart with a love for family and for the Christmas season.