They were bowling buddies and baseball babes. And they unabashedly declare to all, “we are gamblers!”
Officially, these are the Super Grannies of Manteca. That’s their name as a bowling and baseball team. They still hit the bowling lanes – hip surgeries and other ailments notwithstanding – but understandably not as often as they used to. Batting days at the diamonds, though, are but memories now.
Over the years, they have been sponsored by the now-defunct Allen’s Jewelry and Ed’s TV, two long-running businesses in downtown Manteca before BATs (Bay Area transplants) became a buzzword in the Family City.
They are all bona fide gold-card bearers, their ages ranging from the early 60s to somewhere in the mid-80s. The baby in the group – in chronological age – is Diane Phillips, a member of the first graduating class (1971) of East Union High School. She became part of the group by hanging on to the sporting coattails of her mother, Ernestine, who is one of the original Super Grannies.
But truth be told, the more than two-dozen tight-as-sardines-in-a-can friends are all young at heart with the energy and stamina of many who are several years their junior.
For close to 40 years, these longtime Mantecans – all women – have been getting together at the bowling alley, in the baseball fields, and at the casino in Jackson. Somewhere along that time span, they started hitting the lunch circuit every first Wednesday of the month at different dining destinations in Manteca, and sometimes in Ripon and Stockton. Once in a great while, the date is moved to another time due to conflicts such as medical appointments. That was the case this month when the group met for lunch this week at Las Palmas in the old Low’s shopping center on North Main Street at Alameda Street. It was a nostalgic experience down memory lane for many of the women who remembered frequenting the Chinese restaurant that enjoyed brisk business at this location for many years.
Super Grannies’ names like a Who’s Who in Manteca list
The women’s names sound like a Who’s Who in Manteca’s list of longtime, multi-generational families, business owners, and residents. Given their collective personal and professional experiences, these Grannies never have a shortage of local-flavored stories to banter around.
Octogenarian Yvonne “Bonnie” Ahles, for one, was the first female dispatcher and parking enforcement officer with the Manteca Police Department. She recalled with mirth how she “once cited the judge and jury” for illegal parking. She was referring to Judge Priscilla Haynes, the first woman judge to serve in Manteca Municipal Court which has since been renamed the Manteca Superior Court on Center Street.
“Judge Haynes loved it,” a grinning Ahles wrote on a small piece of paper, recalling that incident. A stroke about a year ago affected her speech to a significant extent and keeps up with conversations with pen and paper that she always keeps handy.
Carol Rachels, who was born in Manteca and grew up here, belongs to the Blankenship family that were pioneers. She was one of 10 children; she and her sister Linda, are the only surviving siblings. Their brother, James Blankenship, joined the Marine Corps in World War II and fought at Iwo Jima. He died during the war. He was only 19 years old. Rachels, along with Bev Mezzanares and Faye Tolbert, are retired Manteca Unified School District employees. Tolbert was a teacher’s aide; Rachels and Mezzanares worked in Nutrition Services.
Jodie Button, who was unable to make it to the most recent luncheon, was the owner of the long-running but now-defunct Castle Upholstery business on Cottage Avenue on the south side of the Highway 99 overpass. Button Avenue on the east side of 99 was named in honor of the family whose property was bisected when the freeway was built.
Vonda Hardcastle retired from the former Sharpe Army Depot in Lathrop where she worked in Info Systems. One of her four children, Darrell, was the first to graduate from East Union “who went back to teach” at his high school alma mater. Besides being a Lancer teacher, he was also a football and baseball coach. He has been teaching for 36 years, and still teaches in Texas where he and his family now lives.
Two in the group are sisters – Linda Little and Dodee Huff. Little worked for Hewlett-Packard, first in Palo Alto and later in Santa Clara. She was a buyer for 35 years before she retired. Huff drove forklifts for Inland Containers, 36 years in the company’s Los Angeles location and three years in Newark.
Ernestine “Ernie” Phillips farms with her husband, Richard, and are the owners and operators – along with their two sons and daughter – of P&P Farms on North Union Road. She is also an artist in her own right, with oils as her main medium. She and Shirley Smith, who worked in sales and had her own antiques business, went to school together from elementary grades in Manteca. Smith was Phillips’ junior by two years, but they’ve been friends since second grade. Member Marge Vieira was manager at Platt Electric in Manteca for many years. Phillips’ daughter, Diane, started bowling with her when she was just six years old and has never quit since. Also unable to join the luncheon group on Wednesday was Annette Nelson.
One of the newest members of the group, Diana McConnell Richard, just retired from the Post Office. She and Diane Phillips have been childhood friends and neighbors. They were both postal workers and have been business partners for just as many years. Their DaD’s Hotdogs stand at the Lincoln Center in Stockton is sometimes the setting for the Super Grannies’ monthly luncheons. Members Nickie Plaskett and Bealy Joaquin were stay-at-home moms who took care of their families.
Four of the original Super Grannies have passed away – Alma Black Greer, Shirley Bowden, Jo Marie Walker, and Barbara Lamar. Lamar and her late husband founded and operated RediMark at Maple Avenue in downtown Manteca next to the post office. The business is now owned and run by their daughter, Diane, and her husband.
Luncheon get-togethers started from bowling game coffee klatches
The monthly Super Grannies’ luncheon dates had its genesis from the coffee klatches that usually accompanied their bowling and baseball games during which they talked about the games or just simply batted the breeze.
Not long after, the women started saying, “We can’t let the group die,” a mantra that gave birth to their decision to meet at least once a month socially over food. Later on, they found another excuse to get together and spoil their palates – celebrating members’ birthdays.
Bowling and baseball are not the only activities that interest these women avidly.
“All of them are gamblers,” Diane Phillips said with a teasing smile, with everyone nodding vigorously and smiling in agreement. It’s all for fun, of course.
“They’re all great ladies,” said a very impressed Diane who quickly added, “It’s too cool that they stayed friends all these years.”