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Swiss Club still going strong after 89 years
View of the original Ripon Swiss Hall from the flag pole. - photo by ROSE ALBANO RISSO

Helen Rothlin Sandoval still remembers the many happy days spent at the Swiss Hall in Ripon.

“We had lots of fun as kids. We grew up sliding on the dance floor. The floor was slick. They put stuff on it to make the floor slick for dancing – I really don’t know what it was; they sprinkled it. I was just a kid then,” recalled Sandoval with a laugh.

“The parents always brought their kids with them” whenever they went to the hall for dances, barbecues, and other activities, she said.

“They had dances several times during the year, and they had picnics and stuff like that, as well as wrestling matches. They still do have them,” said Sandoval whose father, Arnold Rothlin, was the organization’s second president, and was one of the club’s charter members.

“That’s where I learned to dance. That’s all we ever knew. That was outing. That’s where we made friends,” she said.

Many of those friends – “a lot of them” – that she grew up with such as Marguerite Ott who recently passed away, are now gone, said Sandoval.

The dances were always “fun; we always looked forward to going to the dances. In fact, we used to get together on weekends – go to each other’s houses and practice together dancing and stuff just for fun,” she remembered.

“My father was born in Kerns, Switzerland. My father and his cousin came to America together. He was living in San Jose when he met my mother, Ellen Gorman. In 1927, they came to West Ripon Road where they bought a ranch,” she recalled.

The original ranch is still there. The silo and one of the sheds that her father built are still standing, visible from the road. The ranch is located on the north side of West Ripon Road between Union Road and South Manteca Road.

Years ago, before the advent of television, the Internet and other modern-day digital conveniences and entertainments, “your sole focal spot was the Swiss Hall,” said Don Widmer of Lathrop who is the current president of the Swill Club.

That’s where many met their spouses, Widmer said.

Nowadays though, some of that have changed with members of the younger generations marrying outside of their nationalities. Widmer is part of that group. “I’m Dutch,” he said. Sandoval herself has married someone, husband Anthony, who is of Spanish descent.

“It’s the demographic; it’s changing,” noted Widmer.

But Swiss or not, these members who have Swiss spouses like Widmer and Anthony Sandoval are faithful and dedicated members. Helen Sandoval proudly points out that her husband has been a member of the Swiss Club for 40 years.

“Those spouses have to be committed,” Widmer said.

“We try hard to do the best we can” to continue doing all the traditional activities that were started by the club’s pioneers, he said.

“It’s something that we grew up with, so we’ll always do it, I guess. That’s our blood. I hope my kids – our kids and grandkids – will continue to do it. My kids are doing it; they like it,” Widmer said.

Outside of those traditional activities, though, members still have several good reasons to come and join in the festivities and activities at the hall.

“You meet people, you get that association and camaraderie and continue to grow,” Widmer said.

Club members are not counted strictly as individuals. The members consist of family units, which means the husband and wife plus their kids who are under the age of 18. Once the children reach that age, they become individual members if they so wish. Currently, the club has 570 family-members.

Annual membership dues are $40 per family. Benefits include an annual barbecue which is free to all members and held at the end of July. They also get to eat free of charge at every event that includes dinner. Members also get to use the hall “at a very discounted rate; and, if you die, you get (the use of it) free at your funeral.

“So, that’s the good news, huh?” Widmer said with a laugh.

Plus, he said, “you get to associate with these people. This hall was started by our forgathers that came to this country looking a new life, and start a business, and then started the hall.”

The Ripon Swiss Club actually started as a Swiss Italian Club in Modesto. Then the Swiss branched off from that group – “they got into a little argument and started this club,” he said.

It’s a story that several longtime members repeated; the story is quite a common knowledge among the members.

A group of Swiss German immigrants formed the San Joaquin Valley Swiss Club in 1926. Among the charter members were Arnold Bucher and Joe Bucher of Ripon, and Joe Bucher of Lathrop. The rest were from Modesto, with one member from Patterson. One of the framed photographs inside the dining hall of the Swiss Hall shows these original members.

For more information about the Swiss Club and the Swiss Hall, visit their webpage at or email


To contact Rose Albano Risso, email or call 209.249.3536.