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Queen hopefuls reflect on Ripon’s history
Century Grand Marshal DSC_4577.jpg
Parade Grand Marshal Les Eastburg, at 100 years old, was the focus at the social hour of the speech contest for the Almond Blossom Festival princesses at Ripon Christian High School’s auditorium Thursday night. - photo by GLENN KAHL/The Bulletin

The nine hopefuls vying for the 2019 Almond Blossom crown during next month’s Ripon Chamber of Commerce sponsored festival talked about Ripon’s history during the speech  contest portion of the 57th annual event.

The theme of the 57th annual Almond Blossom Festival is “A Century of Memories.” The speeches were presented during a gathering Thursday at the Ripon Christian High School auditorium. It was preceded by a social hour in the hall between the auditorium and the basketball gym where finger foods, sandwiches and desserts were served.

The princesses include Maira Ortega, Alanna Bartels, Kaitlyn Smith, Maria Soto, Molly Ysit, Jaden Sanford-Snyder, Perris Larson, Kassidy Isham and Annalise Welsh – all high school juniors from Ripon.  The guest of honor at the event was 100-year-old Les Eastburg who will serve as grand marshal for next month’s parade. 

Maira Ortega plans to attend the University of California at Berkeley with the hope of becoming an anesthesiologist.  Alanna Bartels is planning to attend William Jessup University where she will major in Biology.  Kaitlyn Smith is hoping to attend either Harvard University or the University of Colorado and major in Medicine with a specialty in Pediatric Oncology. Maria Soto is planning to attend either U.C. Berkeley or Stanford University with an intended major in Linguistics and Foreign Language. Molly Ysit plans to attend Boise State University or the University of Reno with an intended major in Nursing.  Jaden Sanford-Snyder is looking at five schools of higher education, Stanford, UCLA, Harvard, U.C. Santa Barbara or Cal Poly San Luis Obispo with a major in Criminology and a minor in Applied Psychology.  Perris Larson is planning to major in Journalism and minor in History at Simpson University.  Kassidy Isham is hoping to attend either San Diego State University or U.C. Santa Barbara reaching for a degree in Nursing.  Annalise Welsh has set her goals on a Law major with a minor in writing or Public Speaking at the University of Oregon. 

Two of the princesses, Perris Larson and Annalise Welsh, are students at Ripon Christian High School with the other candidates being students at Ripon High School. 

Each princess spoke on a 10-year period of Ripon history for their presentations.

Alanna Bartels talked about the 1920s era dressed in a costume of the period to highlight that time in Ripon’s history.  She pointed out that Ripon already had the makings to become the jewel of the Central Valley with farm land, multiple businesses, a fire department, a church a few schools, residential neighborhoods and its very own chamber of commerce. 

It was in the 1920s that Ripon blossomed with almond farming for which it is known for today.  This was a result of the 20 acres that were planted in Ripon on a trial basis in 1907.  It was also during this time parade grand marshal, Les Eastburg, spent the first 10 years of his life living in a farm house in Ripon where he would eventually become an almond farmer and century-long-time Ripon resident, Bartels explained.  

Kaitlyn Smith chose the 1930s era for her history presentation noting it was the Golden Age of American humor.  

“Early in ’32 and in ’34 Ripon had the largest events: two card parties where the streets of Ripon were blocked off and over 6,000 people came together for a classic game of cards.  In addition to that the third almond orchard was planted on 20 acres of land which became a big milestone for Ripon.  Jo Van Fleet, a teacher at Ripon Union High School, left for Broadway and an acting career that won her an academy award in the movie, “East of Eden.”

In conclusion she said, “I can safely say that the ‘30s made a lasting impact on the future decades and helped shape our community into what we know it to be today.”

Maria Soto researched the 1940 era for her Ripon history speech presentation saying it was one of the most important decades for the Ripon community.  Twenty-six of the Ripon High’s 32 graduates of the class of 1941 served in the U.S. Army, the Army Air Corps, the Navy and the Marines answering the call to defend their country during World War II.

The Ripon Memorial Library was built in 1947 honoring the 16 men who fought and died for their country.  Eastburg lost his father in 1941 and the city of Ripon was founded in November of 1945, she noted.  

Molly Ysit was given the 1950s as her history assignment in preparing her speech.  She noted that compared to some 15,000 residents who make their homes in Ripon today – the 1950s had many fewer with only 1,500.  

“During the ‘50s you could see our grand marshal of today, Les Eastburg, running his uncle’s almond huller just north of Ripon and leasing other almond orchards in the country,” she said.  

Eastburg’s favorite memories were learning to ski, taking his family to Yosemite and watching the fire fall from Glacier Point.  

Molly also told of the heroic actions of Navy aviator Lt. Clarence Vandenberg who flew alongside a pilotless jet fighter off the San Diego coastline – the pilot having bailed out of the crippled jet – and placing his jet’s wing under that of the other aircraft and guided it 12 miles out to sea where it crashed saving countless lives. 

She also mentioned the building of the popular Griswold’s Restaurant on Highway 99 in Ripon – one of six in the chain.  It boasted a small zoo, a Bowie knife collection, a gun collection, a carriage display, a Victorian collection, many antiques and a vast car collection – closing in the early ‘60s.

Jaden Stanford-Snyder was assigned, “The ‘60s in Ripon,” for her speech, noting that the U.S. was in the midst of the Vietnam War and hippie era had just begun, JFK was elected president and assassinated.  

“It was in 1961 that the first-ever Miss Ripon candidates were selected and girls, just like us nine, started the process of running to become the Almond Blossom Queen.”

She added that the current Grand Marshal, Les Eastburg, was 42 years old when the first festival became a part of Ripon history and spent a lot of time hulling almonds.  

“Ripon’s people and roots run so deep which is part of what makes our community so special and so close.”

Perris Larson chose the decade of the 1970s for her presentation, remarking about the “over the pond” golf tournament that developed between Ripon, England and Ripon, California.

The idea of the two teams competing was brought about by the former mayor of Ripon, England John Richmond. After visiting Ripon, California he brought his wife back in 1977 wanting the two teams to participate in a miniature Ryders Cup – a three-day, 18-hole tournament at Spring Creek Country Club and then in 1980 Ripon would fly to England to play them – with more matches to follow, Larson said.

Kassidy Isham focused on the 1980s that she said were full of historic events and helped shape Ripon into what it has become today.  “The ‘80s were a time of economic boom and growth.  Many new businesses were founded creating more jobs for the people in Ripon, she noted. 

 Guntert Steel moved to Ripon from Stockton buying the Food Machinery Corporation building that was empty on East Fourth Street and started its production in Ripon. The steel and concrete paving companies supplied jobs for over 100 people.  New housing developments were created between Jack Tone Road and Robert Avenue.  Ripon had only two public elementary schools Ripona and Ripon Elementary. Weston Elementary was built in 1986.  Leo Zuber was the first principal and the district superintendent was Joseph O’Leary.  Ripon High School had fewer than 500 students, Kassidy related.

“For those who live here, there is an incredible sense of pride in our community,” she concluded.  

Annalise Welsh called Ripon in the ‘2000s decade, ‘The Jewel of the Valley” and the “Almond Capitol of the World,” as well as the home of the Ripon High Indians and the Ripon Christian Knights.  

She noted the Curt Pernice Skate Park opened behind city hall and has been maintained for 18 years for many children and teenagers to enjoy.  The “Color the Skies” Hot Air Balloon and Kite Festival was founded to support the Children’s Hospital in Madera by Jessica Coleman and later taken over by the Ripon Chamber of Commerce.  

The Jack Tone Road Development and intersection was reconstructed in 2003 including the addition of the Love’s and Flying J truck stops and the Almond Blossom Festival was relocated from the Ripon Community Center to the Mistlin Sports Complex in 2009 where it remains today.  

Maira Ortega, noting that throughout the years of 2010 to 2018,  there have been many festivities and many remembrances including the 100-year anniversary of Ripon High School, quoting Grand Marshal Les Eastburg telling of a shoe shop downtown next to a hamburger stand where he would watch the cook put the burger together never washing his hands. 

That decade also saw the FBI consolidate its Stockton and Modesto offices into one location in Ripon east of the California State Crime Lab and an online school, California Connections Academy, that located just north of the roundabout on North Wilma Avenue.  

“I truly believe that Ripon will continue to be active and involved.   We, as an active community, will continue to build new traditions and remember the past memories.  No matter the changes that are made, we will make the changes together,” she predicted.  

To contact Glenn Kahl, email