Ask Me: Library, college, museum benefited from librarian's art collection

The Fresno BeeMay 10, 2014 

Question: What happened to the extensive art collection of the late George Ollikkala?

-- Sharon Oliver, Fresno

Answer: George Herman Ollikkala was a librarian at the Fresno County Library's downtown branch for 24 years who amassed a large and diverse private art collection.

Ollikkala was about 17 when his appreciation for art took root on a visit to the art exhibit of the 1939 Golden Gate International Exposition in San Francisco.

He bought his first painting at a Berkeley art gallery in 1949, the same year he graduated from the University of California at Berkeley.

Ollikkala became well known for his extensive collection. In a 1960 Fresno Bee story, Ollikkala, who was not an artist himself, said he bought art based "just on what I like."

Owning original art was fun, Ollikkala said: "But this has nothing to do with the monetary value. A $5 print can provide as much pleasure as an oil painting worth many times that modest sum."

Ollikkala also owned reproductions, including works of famed sculptor Frederic Remington that were later donated to the Fresno Library.

"He bought a lot of art," said a nephew, Paul Mork of Fresno. "He had a ton of art. It was too much."

Part of Ollikkala's collection was donated. His collection of pre-Columbian clay sculptures was given to the Fresno Art Museum and a collection of bronze pieces went to the West Hills College District, Mork said.

After Ollikkala died in 2011 at age 88 his family kept some of his collection, but most was sold at auction, Mork said.

Ollikkala was born on his family's farm in Reedley. He served with the U.S. Army during World War II and earned a graduate degree in library science in 1950. He was hired by Henry Madden as a librarian at California State University, Fresno in 1956 and went to work for the Fresno County library in 1965.

According to his obituary, Ollikkala was a nonartist member of Fig Tree Gallery and was involved with Arte Américas, Friends of the Madden Library, The William Saroyan Society, Orpheus and the Fresno Philharmonic.

Q: Driving along Avenue 7, I pass the old Ripperdan School. It's closed now. What is the history of the school?

-- Bill Engel, Clovis

A: The school began in 1913 when Ripperdan District farmers formed a school district. The farming district, the school district and school are all named for pioneers George and Effie Ripperdan, who came to the area in the late 1880s, according to local historian and author Bill Coate.

The Ripperdans grew wheat and barley and raised cattle on 6,000 acres. They sold their land in 1910 to several farmers. Three years later the first class of Ripperdan School met in an old pump house building on one of those farms.

The school quickly outgrew the pump house, and a $3,500 bond measure was passed to build a new school with one classroom and an auditorium on Avenue 7 east of Road 26.

By 1922 there were so many students that the district hired its second teacher. Soon the community raised the money to build a larger school.

"The old building was moved to the back of the lot and a four-room modern building of the Spanish type took its place," Coate said.

By 1937, Ripperdan School had seven teachers and the school district bought three more acres, doubling the size of the school grounds.

In 1938, Ripperdan students wrote a history about construction of the new school, which had three classrooms and an auditorium. "There was noise all the time, but we liked to look out our windows and see the building grow," the students wrote.

Each classroom had a sink and lockers. "The lavatories have showers with hot water," the students noted. "There's an office for the principal."

They added: "The stoves burn with oil now ... You just have to turn the gas gadget and light a match."

Ripperdan School joined Madera Unified School District in 1965. The school housed kindergarten through eighth-grade students until 2002 and then was used as a continuation high school until it closed in 2010, the district said.

Q: I was a fan of "Your Hit Parade." What is the history of the show?

-- Bess Stalis, Fresno

A: "Your Hit Parade" was a one-hour radio and later television show featuring singers backed by a band performing the top hits of each week.

"Your Hit Parade" was sponsored by Lucky Strike cigarettes and began as a radio show in 1935. The show moved to television in 1950, although the radio show continued until about 1953. The television show ended in 1959.

Frank Sinatra joined "Your Hit Parade" in 1943 but was reportedly fired either for flubbing the lyrics to "Don't Fence Me In" or for demanding a raise, depending on the source. Sinatra rejoined the show from 1947 to 1949, when he co-starred with Doris Day.

The television show featured the top seven songs of each week with a band, singers and elaborate production numbers.

The show faded as rock and roll gained popularity in the mid-1950s. According to one source, "big band singer Snooky Lanson's attempts to perform Elvis Presley's 'Hound Dog' hit in 1956 hastened the end of the show." "Your Hit Parade" returned for a summer revival in 1974.

Ask Me publishes on the second and fourth Sundays of each month. Paula Lloyd is a freelance writer. Send questions to askpaulalloyd@yahoo.com or by mail to Paula Lloyd, c/o The Fresno Bee Newsroom, 1626 E St., Fresno CA 93786. Please include your name, city of residence and a phone number.

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