Editor’s note: This is the sixth installment of a multi-part series on the history of Old Town Clovis, as told by Larry W. Gamble, a member of the Central Clovis Steering Committee in the 1980s. The committee provided input to the City Council on what would eventually become Old Town Clovis.
On Saturday, April 2, 1988, “The Great Clovis Caucus” was held. A small brass band was hired to march north on Pollasky Avenue (sidewalks only) from the old DMV building while playing loud marching music.
At the intersection of 4th and Pollasky, a previously set-up stage borrowed from the Chamber of Commerce was decorated with red, white and blue bunting. Small, hand-held flags were given to the audience, who waved them proudly as the parade neared the platform. Then, four well-known, historical characters dressed in authentic costume greeted the audience: George Washington (portrayed by Bob Burkheimer); Ulysses S. Grant (characterized by Larry Gamble); Betsy Ross (played by Robyn Husler); and Abraham Lincoln (aka Thurman Husler). Each historic character made a brief statement to welcome the audience.
One by one, the City Council candidates were chauffeured down Pollasky to the stage in period convertible automobiles provided by the Antique Car Club. The small but enthusiastic audience cheered with delight. Five-minute speeches were delivered by candidates Tom Sterns, John Lecher, Jack Plummer, Carl Smith and Bob Subers. Then the audience was invited to ask questions.
After the last answer was given, George Washington thanked the audience for their rapt attention; then the band played, “You’re a Grand Old Flag” to cheers and clapping from the audience. Thus ended B.O.O.T.’s very first promotional event.
The City Council had denied Bob’s request for limited funds to advertise the non-partisan election, so only a small number people knew anything about it. The Clovis Independent was kind to publish a great photo of the four historical characters. What was lacking in quantity was made up in quality … and fun. The historical actors found their performances most endearing and set about to plan the next series of events.
I should mention, following the Clovis Caucus, and forever after, whenever I entered Burk’s Press, I would say, “Good morning Mr. Washington.”
Bob was quick to respond, “And good day to you, Ulysses.” On that particular day, Bob added, “That was a grand event, wasn’t it? I only wish the audience had been a little larger,” he said smiling with a twinkle in his eyes. He was disappointed, but it did not dampen his spirit or enthusiasm. We set about to plan the rest of the year.
Other activities in the year 1988 included: The April Festival, May Fest, Old Town Clovis Olympics for Kids, Friendship Days, Harvestfest and Halloween Costume Contest and our Old Fashioned Christmas.
The following year B.O.O.T. premiered an event that has achieved national recognition. The first Old Town Clovis Certified Farmers Market occurred on Friday, May 12, 1989.
In conjunction with the market, we proposed something called, “Sundaes on Fridays.” Robyn and Thurman Husler obtained little plastic straw hats. The five of us — Bob and Gloria Burkheimer, Robyn and Thurman Husler and I — scooped Fresno State vanilla ice cream into the bowls, spooned strawberry or chocolate sauce over it, and shot it with whipped cream. We charged a buck. What a deal! The income went to offset costs of the event and helped to build the meager B.O.O.T. treasury.
The ice cream was so frozen and difficult to scoop, after several hours, we almost developed frostbite. We soon ran out of toppings and, finally, we ran out of the melting ice cream. It was not nearly as much fun as the Caucus had been.
The preliminary farmers markets were smashing successes; the ice cream boot was … not so much. I am doubtful the ice cream created a substantial uptick of in-store sales, but it was a tasty event. The ice cream committee decided our local restaurants and food vendors were better equipped to provide refreshments. About this time, the local radio and television stations began to focus more attention in Old Town. The Friday night events benefitted greatly from this media coverage. The group was off and running.
On March 9, 1989, the Downtown Business Association was dissolved, and the Business Organization of Old Town was officially established. A new constitution and bylaws were created with the help of attorney and B.O.O.T. member, Kim Herold. At that time, there was no paid executive director and association members volunteered their time and effort to facilitate growth in the organization.
During 1988 and 1989, we had been expanding knowledge and skills, learning more and more about each event. By far, the three most successful promotional events were: the Peddlers Fair focusing on the sale of antiques; the Certified Farmers Market (one of the first few in California) and our December promotion, An Old Fashioned Christmas in Old Town Clovis.
Member Bill Shipley freely volunteered to be our first Santa Claus. He patiently sat hours on end in a store picture window, greeting hundreds, perhaps thousands of children over the years during the holidays. To this day, Bill’s compassion and endurance remains unchallenged.
Regarding our first antique and collectible show, we hired the former producer of the Oakhurst Peddlers Fair, Richard “Dick Clark,” to create a comparable event in Clovis. He produced several successful Clovis Peddlers Fairs. Eventually, we were able to hire our first full-time executive director, Lee Jason, who assumed that responsibility.
Lee and I had worked together during the 1970s at McClatchy-owned Fresno Bee, KMJ Radio, and KMJ Television. He had been the television station’s program director. In the early 1990s he retired from McClatchy but wanted to keep busy with a part-time job. We hired him and he provided professional leadership and direction to our group.
He computerized our records, interfaced with the City of Clovis and used his public relations skills to great effect with members. Lee was most knowledgeable in the public relations arena. He successfully completed many projects. Ultimately, the responsibilities of the job became more than he desired. So he left the job and Thurman Husler was placed in the interim. Later his wife, Robyn Husler became executive director. Both of them worked hard and continued the forward momentum to organize the group and maintain quality events.
Under their leadership, B.O.O.T. increased membership, improved operational functions, established procedures and developed many of the events that became the mainstay of the group’s marketing strategy in the Fresno-Clovis area.
In 1997, Sharon Jackson was hired as executive director. She continued to refine our organization, programs, events and continued the tradition of strong and decisive leadership.
During that time, she introduced Cary Catalano to the executive board. Catalano Fenske and Associates is a Fresno team of creative and professional individuals who specialize in public relations, marketing, event planning, business development and corporate communications. The Executive Board agreed to a contract with Cary and his staff to work under the direction of Sharon. Cary was very useful in securing corporate sponsorships for our many events. During our association with his firm, he helped to enhance our image and create an even stronger brand presence in the central California market than ever before.
In consideration of Sharon’s position in B.O.O.T. and her skills, she was asked by the City of Clovis to assume responsibilities on the Economic Development Strategy Advisory Committee, the Clovis Safe City Program, the Tourism Advisory Committee and to act as Public Art Chair for the 2008 CCDA Vision & Action Plan.
She also coordinated one of the city’s historic celebrations with Peg Bos, curator of the Clovis-Big Dry Creek Historical Museum. By the way, Peg was also the first lady Mayor of Clovis. During her many years on the Clovis City Council and subsequent position with the museum, she has been a valued advocate on behalf of B.O.O.T. Her support is sincerely appreciated by members of the organization.
Sharon Jackson left the B.O.O.T. in 2010, but her impact was significant. The value of her contributions is reflected by her 13-year tenure.
In the fall of 2010, Carole Lester was hired. She is assisted by Kirsty Wimbish. Carole and Kirsty manage our numerous and demanding schedule of events:
1. The Antique and Collectible Fair-spring and fall (member collaboration)
2. Friday Night Certified Farmer’s Market (member collaboration)
3. The Old Town Clovis Christmas (member collaboration)
4. One Enchanted Evening (suggested by Board member Sandi Schulte)
5. Glorious Junk Days (suggested by Board member Wanda Leon)
6. North American Pole Vaulting Championship (suggested by Sharon Jackson)
7. The Wawona Peach Party (suggested by Bob Burkheimer)
8. Old Town Clovis Craft Beer Crawl (suggested by Carole Lester)
9. Old Town Clovis Wine Walk (suggested by Carole Lester)
10. Old Town Clovis Pistachio Party (suggested by Carole Lester)
11. Saturday Morning Farmers Market (suggested by Carole Lester)
12. The Annual B.O.O.T. Christmas Gathering of Members
Part Seven — the final installment — of this series will recognize more of the people who have made Old Town Clovis a success.