AT A GLANCE
• WHAT: Manteca Historical Museum
• WHEN: The museum hosts a social every third Tuesday of the month, where community members can visit and share stories from the town’s history. The museum opens at 1 p.m.
• WHERE: 600 W. Yosemite Avenue, Manteca
• CONTACT: (209) 825-3021
Almost every Tuesday morning, Ron Howe volunteers his time and service to the Manteca Historical Museum.
Perhaps no one has benefitted more from its artifacts and articles, stories and socials.
Howe is the City of Manteca’s only living descendant of J.J. Overshiner, an original settler whose vision and influence can still be seen today.
Overshiner once built – and later moved – what is believed to be the oldest standing home in Manteca, located now at the point of Oak Street and Willow Avenue.
He also opened the town’s first store and barbershop, a scene immortalized in water color by local artist Tom Olson.
And it was on his land – the Overshiner Tract – that Manteca’s first elementary school was built. Though the original building was destroyed by a fire in 1948, Yosemite School now serves as Manteca Community Day.
Overshiner was an influential but tiny man, Howe said with great pride.
That the 80-year-old former Simplot employee has a strong connection with his great grandfather is a testament to the Manteca Historical Museum. Stories and photos have helped Howe get to know a man that for much of his life was a mystery.
Though Howe has lived in Manteca for 40-plus years, he was born in San Jose and spent his formidable years in the Bay Area. His grandfather, Edgar Overshiner, was one of two children born to J.J. and Vina Overshiner.
Howe says he didn’t visit Manteca much as an adolescent or young adult, not even for J.J Overshiner’s funeral in 1951. The cost and scarcity of gas, especially during wartime, made traveling tough.
“I didn’t know him. I can’t say a lot in reference to him,” he said. “We just didn’t come over here too much. We probably should have.”
Howe has made up for lost time, relying on others to bridge the gap to his past.
Keeping the right company has helped.
Howe was a member of the group that launched the Manteca Historical Museum in the 1990s. The venture began with spit-ball sessions in a garage owned by local historian Ken Hafer. There, they’d discuss possible locations and draw up plans.
The more Howe got involved with the project, the more he learned about Manteca’s origins and its original movers and shakers.
The littlest man in town stands tall in its history books.
“I got involved with it at that time, knowing my great grandfather was buried at the Union Cemetery,” said Howe, who has served as the museum’s treasurer and director, and like his great grandfather, was inducted into the Boys and Girls Club Hall of Fame.
“I started meeting people who knew my great grandfather. It’s been interesting.”
Overshiner is remembered best by many, including Hafer, as a grain farmer. He not only tended his own fields, but also farmed for Joshua Cowell.
“He grew grapes too,” Howe said, noting that the vines that grow in an alley behind the “Overshiner Home” on Yosemite between Veach and Rose lanes and were planted by his great grandfather.
“Those elm trees in front of the house,” he added, “he used to water those by hand, too.”
After Overshiner sold the home to the Cotrell family, he and Vina remained on the property, living in a small house at the rear.
For someone who possessed so much, Howe said Overshiner was a modest, humble man.
He chuckles at an old Manteca Bulletin newspaper clipping that chronicles one of Overshiner’s interesting but odd business propositions. The article stated that Overshiner would give away a lot in the downtown corridor to anyone willing to build a hotel on it.
Free of charge.
“Imagine that,” Howe said.
For treasures like those, Howe is indebted to the museum and other memory-keepers.
“It’s the history of Manteca,” he said, “but also the history of my family.”