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Manteca man pedals his way to 83
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Bob St. John, 83, of El Rancho Mobile Home Park, is about to ride away from his birthday lunch at Esmeralda’s restaurant in Ripon returning to Manteca. Ripon High grads of 1947 and 1945 respectively Jerry Thiemann and Spir Ballatore sent him off on his way. - photo by GLENN KAHL/ The Bulletin

Bob St. John proved the value of having lunch with friends on his 83rd birthday as he rode his bicycle from Manteca’s El Rancho Mobile Home Park to a Mexican restaurant in Ripon .

A longtime beekeeper, St. John pedaled down Austin Road and traveled along the Highway 99 Frontage Road to a shopping center just east of Jack Tone Road where he and two former classmates from the mid-‘40s reminisced over lunch at Esmeralda’s restaurant.

John Thiemann, a 1947 graduate, and Spir Ballatore, who graduated with St. John in 1945,  were on hand to make the day special for their extremely active friend.  Thiemann is known for operating the Shell service station at Second and Stockton avenues for years and Ballatore was a Gallo Wine administrator in Modesto.

Ballatore quipped that anybody who rides a bicycle for that far on his birthday should have a free lunch.  Looking back to his high school days St. John said, “Everybody didn’t have cars when we were in school – we had to bike.”

After lunch two waitresses brought him a chocolate cake with a single candle that he immediately blew out.  His friend Ballatore asked for vanilla ice cream to go with the cake and out came a tray with five separate scoops for everyone.

St. John, who grew up on North Ripon Road in a family of beekeepers, said he took the shortest possible route to Ripon using roads that were downhill in places.  Questioned by his friends who didn’t believe there were any hills, he responded: “You have to ride a bike to know where they are on the roads.”

He said he has been riding a bike since he was six.

The 1945 Ripon High grad said he and his wife traveled 1,200 miles in Europe “all downhill,” especially in France.  “Going down a river like the Rhine was the best,” he said.  They also biked down the Neckar River from Stuttgart to Heidelberg in Germany.

On the day he retired he and his wife went to Wales and rented to bikes and traded a house to live in that was located in a nice neighborhood.  It was so much better than staying in a commercial hotel or hostel, he said.

Biking down the Danube River they carried their camping gear and luggage  with them, staying in a hostel in Baden for only a few days.

“We have known each other for 70 years,” he said of his high school friendships.  “I knew Jerry first, that was the year I went to church,” he chuckled.

He was actually born in Manteca at his aunt’s home on Union Road where the bypass now goes through the area.

St. John still bikes out of his mobile home park with his wife every day.  He said he has to have a location that he is riding toward:  two coffee shops.  One ride is for 10 miles round trip and the other five miles.