by Jim Bulls
The first half of the 20th century was filled with difficult times—from World War I and the Great Depression, to World War II. Reedley did its part for the war effort by providing produce and sending its young men off to serve. In 1946, when it was time for the servicemen to return home to resume civilian life, the Santa Fe depot supervisor, Art Tabler, suggested it was time to bring the community together to celebrate its diverse ethnicity. His idea was to stage a big parade and have food booths in the park on the weekend of the college homecoming game. The Reedley Fiesta was born that October.
The Reedley Chamber of Commerce sponsored the event and Hughes Ford provided a new car to be raffled off. Just like the annual fireworks display and winning the Grand Sweepstakes at the Fresno Fair every year, the Reedley Fiesta would become a yearly tradition.
Each year the Fiesta spirit was in the air starting in early September. The car to be raffled off would be on display somewhere prominent, designs for floats would be drawn up, and band directors would choose the music best suited to display their marching skills.
But the Fiesta was more than just a parade. During each parade, the Fiesta Posse (a group of “Keystone Kop” type lawmen) rode around town on the running boards of Mike Shamoon’s old Hudson looking for businessmen who weren’t wearing green socks. The unlucky ones were thrown into the back of the paddy wagon, Conner’s black International Panel Truck, and taken before the judge. Mayor Hammack would act as presiding judge, sitting at a card table in front of the Bank of America at 11th & G streets. Parked at the corner was the “jail” where the guilty spent 30 minutes for all Reedley to see, in addition to paying a fine. One year a selected group of dignitaries wound up in the jail and Bozo Aalto drove up in the fire truck and hosed them down.
In later years, the “Kops” would be replaced by the Whiskerino Posse, who wore cowboy garb, dusters, huge black hats, Colt six-shooters and Winchester rifles. Besides hanging out at Jadoons, they roamed the city streets in search of the smooth shaven who were promptly thrown into the old “jail” for a trip around town—in addition to a fine, of course.
During the final week before Fiesta, the finishing touches would be put on the floats, the Pep Squad would decorate for the homecoming dance, and booths would start popping up in the park. Friday night, alumni from Reedley College, Reedley High and Immanuel would congregate in the park to partake of the various food booths while greeting friends from years past. The grownups had a dance over at the Veteran’s Hall.
Saturday was the big day. Band busses started arriving early in the morning, floats were towed into place, horses were unloaded, and dignitaries and politicians took their places in convertibles. The parade started off at 10:00 a.m., making its way south on G Street, surrounded by cheering spectators. Following the parade, the crowd headed to the park to fill up on teriyaki beef, tacos, beerocks, corn dogs, ice cream or homemade pies. Lively music from the Reedley German Band filled the air, along with the delicious food smells and lots of laughter. Saturday night capped off the weekend with the College homecoming game and the crowning of the homecoming queen.
In the early Fiesta days, I used to ride on the fire truck or Jorgenson’s well drilling rig with my friend Jack Smith whose dad was a fireman. In the 1955 and 1956 Fiestas, I marched in the Grant Junior High band, and in 1957, I marched with the combination Reedley High School and Reedley College band. We wore gray uniforms with reversible chest pieces that were green for high school members and orange for college members. The only problem with being in the parade is that you missed out on seeing the parade.
For just over a decade, 1946 to 1957, the yearly Fiestas continued, but whether it was politics or burn out, the Fiesta took a sabbatical until it was resurrected by Budd Brockett in 1966. From that time on, people called Budd “Mr. Fiesta”—he was a fixture in his lucky black felt hat and chaired or co-chaired the Fiesta 19 times.
Every generation of Reedley’s children look at the Fiesta with sparkling eyes and barely contain their excitement while watching or taking part in the greased flagpole climb, the frog jumping contest, the cross-country races, or the ethnic dancing. There are kids of all ages waiting with great anticipation for October 9, 2010 and Reedley’s 45th Annual Fiesta—an event that still brings the community together.
If you would like to see a slice of Reedley life, including the first Fiesta in 1946, the Reedley Historical Society has a DVD for sale at the Museum. The film is in color and narrated by Norman Zech and Bozo Aalto.
If you want to make history yourself, be a part of the 2010 Fiesta Parade. Applications are available at the Reedley Chamber of Commerce, the Reedley Exponent, and the Reedley Community Services Department. Entry fee is $20 for all non-political entries. The parade theme this year is “Reedley: Always in Season.” For more information contact Reedley.Fiesta.Parade@gmail.com. You can also check out the Fiesta poster here.