Willie Weatherford — a man who regularly went to bat for youth programs and recreational sports — could be honored by having a city park named after him.
The Manteca City Council when they meet Tuesday at 7 p.m. will consider doing just that when they review a petition with more than 50 names urging that Weatherford’s name be attached to a park that’s part of the 1,401-home Griffin Park neighborhood now under construction along South Main Street south of Woodward Avenue.
Weatherford also holds the distinction of being the longest serving Manteca mayor for 12 years.
He was first elected to the City Council in 1996. Overall he served for 18 years as an elected official.
Weatherford’s council role came after 29 years in law enforcement that included serving as Manteca’s police chief before his retiring as well as two years in Galt as that community’s city manager.
He was a founding member of the Manteca/Lathrop Boys & Girls Club as well as a member of the Manteca Hall of Fame.
The 1961 Galt High graduate pitched for the Warriors baseball team as a four-year varsity player. He was also a forward on the school’s basketball team.
His career included working in Galt as police chief and then as city manager.
During his tenure as Galt city manager, the flea market the city runs was able to triple its revenue that flowed into the city’s recreational programs increased to $300,000 by management changes he instituted. Today, the flea market generates close to $1 million for the City of Galt.
In Galt, he was on the founding board of the Boys & Girls Club just as he was in Manteca.
He obtained a degree in criminal justice from Sacramento State.
Weatherford over the years has been active on various community boards and organizations including Eskaton that provides subsidized senior housing and the Manteca Kiwanis.
His tenure on the Manteca City Council included involvement in numerous civic improvements ranging from a new surface water treatment plant to a major wastewater treatment plant upgrade and expansion to development of the 52-acre Woodward Park.
He also helped secure development such as Spreckels Park, The Promenade Shops at Orchard Valley, Del Webb at Woodbridge, and the Stadium Retail Center.
But the one project he is most closely identified with is the Big League Dreams sports complex. It took seven years from conception to ground breaking to build the six Major League Baseball replica softball fields complete with stadium style seating, two restaurants and an indoor soccer arena. The original location proposed at Woodward Park set off a political firestorm that covered three election cycles.
Weatherford — despite opponents who repeatedly campaigned against him for pursuing the sports complex and made him the prime target of their anger — never wavered.
Today, the BLD is the most successful of 10 such complexes throughout the West including Las Vegas and in the Los Angeles area. Before the pandemic, it was booked for at least one tournament every weekend even through holiday weekends such as at Christmas. It also has an indoor soccer arena.
The Lodi native applied for the Manteca police job after completing a four-year stint in the Air Force where he served as an Air Police Officer.
Back then those hired to work as police officers did not have to have any training. Instead, they were out with a training officer for a week and then turned loose to go solo afterwards. Once a year passed they would be sent to a police academy.
When Weatherford went to work as a police officer in 1966, he had to buy his own gun as Manteca did not supply them at the time. Officers also had to buy their own flashlight, handcuffs, belt, and all but one uniform.
His first gun was a 6-inch Colt revolver he bought from one of the 11 existing Manteca Police officers at the time. He found out later that everyone else on the force was using Smith and Wesson guns and that his fellow officer simply needed to sell a revolver that he no longer considered the best for the job.
His pay for working to keep the peace back then was $447 a month. That contrasts with $500 a month stipend he received as Manteca's mayor. Back then, like now, he got his city check just once a month.
There was no retirement. There was no overtime. Officers did get one sick day a month and two weeks’ vacation.
“I ran for the city council for the same reason I went to work as a police officer, to serve the public,” Weatherford said in an interview in 2013.
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