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Almond Blossom Festival lures 40,000 visitors
Members of the Schaefer Tae Kwon Do perform along Fourth Street. - photo by HIME ROMERO

Upwards of 40,000 people made it to Ripon during this past weekend’s 52nd annual Almond Blossom Festival.

It has left the carnival operators ecstatic saying it was their best year ever.

Among the popular draws at Mistlin Sports Park was the Aquatic Solutions water booth from Manteca, hosted by Greg and Jessica Norton, with its face painting. Jessica turned the young faces into happy looking monsters and cat figures that they boasted about running around the carnival grounds.

She also painted butterflies on little girls’ faces and made them feel like princesses. Little boys had Spiderman drawn on their cheeks. 

Ripon Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Tamra Spade and staffer Laura Spence logged 17 hour days on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

 “Mom, I’m glad you have this job. This is so much fun!” her 10-year-old daughter Kaili said of her two-day experience. The Ripon Elementary School student was never without a smile on her face while wearing a small orange staff T-shirt.

 “I actually had fun, just being out there talking to everyone,” Spade said. “We really enjoyed it.”

The chamber director credited city Public Works Director Ted Johnston for being completely involved in the event. She noted that Johnston was always on hand to help.

Speaking of staff, I can’t overlook Pat Van Dorst who has run the parade for years and her husband Roy who designed the chamber float and built the small house on the trailer. Pat once again gave it her all.

“It was such an incredible couple of days,” John Mangelos said. “It made for unique family fun. You saw a lot of people with their children and when you see strollers and children you know it was done right. Every time you do something where children can interact with their moms and dads, they will remember that for the rest of their lives.”

Mangelos is the former owner of the Barnwood Restaurant and was chamber president some dozen years ago. He is now a member of the chamber board. 

The $5 tab for parking went toward Ripon High School’s Sober Grad Night with the Leadership Class students and the JROTC directing traffic for the two days. It was great to see the teens working together to earn the funding needed for the annual event designed to dissuade drinking and driving.

Having the honor of being a parade judge, I was in a awesome position to view the happenings of the day that enjoyed some 100 entries in the line of march from floats to mounted units. Dena Leonardo entered a lone golf cart in the event and jetted around the other units with abandon set on handing out candy and restaurant coupons to those sitting on the curbings – children and adults alike – along the parade route. She had her granddaughters walking with her at first and then on the back of her cart. 

Oak Valley Bank manager Kristine Griesheiner served as a parade marshal attempting to keep the parade moving along with most of the entries listening to her requests in the line of march. Having a family with three boys at home she took along a smorgasbord of food bought at the carnival including the Lockeford sausage that she said melted like honey in your mouth. Then there were the Petridge Farms banana egg rolls with chocolate and whip cream spread over the tops. 

The chamber staff and volunteers had too much fun at the end of the carnival emptying the 4,000 gallon pond used to float giant plastic balls ridden earlier with children inside. 

“It looked pretty cool,”quipped chamber staffer Laura Spence. “We emptied it out in the brick parking lot area with the water flowing down the drain. It cleaned the parking lot at the same time.”

The “Ollie Bollies” were a big hit with Riponites. It was a Dutch donut that brought tears to the eyes of some adult grandkids who remembered their grandmothers baking the same thing in their youth. Brenda Struiksma, of Modesto, handed out samples to the crowd that in turn bought their own delights.

Irvin Baker who has collected countless old tractors on his acreage on North Jack Tone Road had a tractor exhibit that featured a 100-year-old tractor along with five others he brought to the carnival grounds.

Two well known Riponites were seen strolling around the carnival grounds just talking to members of the public and making them feel like home. Longtime police chief Red Nutt and community benefactor Tony Mistlin were great in their roles as ambassadors for Ripon.

The chamber office has traditionally been closed for some three days after the festival to give the staff a chance to regroup. Two of those staff members were on the job early Monday morning trying to clean up their office and get organized to officially reopen on Wednesday.

Blue Diamond Almonds did what they said they were going to do in supporting the festival with manpower. They even put one of their semi-rigs in the parade with almonds featured on its side panels. They also had a booth this year and some seven staffers in the information booth as well as at the coronation in the Community Center.

At one time the information booth had four members of the chamber of commerce booth manning it as they greeted members of the public from out of town. It was chamber staffer Laurin Sephos who ran the “Fun Run” bringing family members to ensure it came off without a hitch.

Spade also noted that a box of winning trophies have been uncovered in the chamber office from the 2011 festival. They are available to be picked up by the winners who failed to get their awards three years ago.


To contact Glenn Kahl, e-mail or call (209) 249-3539.