If you’ve been wondering what it was like growing up in Pleasanton in the 1950s, Donna McMillion has an answer for you – her new book.
The purely volunteer work includes interviews with 38 people, most of them in their 70s, who grew up in those happy years. She conducted all the interviews and then Lauren de Vore and Dan Sapone wrote them in the first person to keep the same format throughout Cruising Down Memory Lane, Stories of Pleasanton in the 1950s.
Donna, who lived on Mohr Avenue when she was surrounded by tomato and cucumber fields (I know I picked them there when I was a teenager), likes to describe riding her horse down Santa Rita Road to Amador Valley High, to go swimming. Later, banker and city councilman Bob Philcox (also in his book) led efforts to ban horses on Main Street and remove the railings to tie them up. The people she interviewed grew up during those years, while my bride and I came here with our families in 1959 and 1958. We went to school with many of these people but have no memories of the 1950s. Similarly, when we saw a musical celebrating the Summer of Love in 1967 – we had no idea what was going on in San Francisco when we lived in the peaceful suburbs of Pleasanton – it was the same for the civil rights movement in the mid-1960s , from which we learned visiting the museum in Memphis where Rev. Martin Luther King was assassinated.
Jim Georgis (right) and hunting friends
For those who know a little about Pleasanton history, the book is full of familiar names: Jorgensen, Takens, Gerton, Trimmingham, Krause, Lund, Georgis Shanks, and the Orloff and Hansen diary families. This is a sample.
Pleasanton Police Commissioner Walt McCloud recounted: “…One time we were down on the south end of town and a guy ran by the street (now Sunol Boulevard) and me and the sheriff’s car pulled up. and the guy had landed in the ditch halfway. And we talked to him and he gets up and runs up the bank and jumps into the sewage pond. So we stand there and everyone gets excited and yells, “He’s going to drown!” So we tell our sheriff’s deputy, “That’s going to be your job, you know that pond is in the county.” So he throws off his duty belt and runs up the embankment and jumps almost waist-deep into the sewage pond and saves the guy. What a hero! “
“And then he puts this foul-smelling person in his car and takes him to Santa Rita. And he’s so proud that he saved that guy and told the Santa Rita boys that he saved that guy from drowning in the sewage pond. And then one of the Santa Rita watch commanders tells him he’s a stupid so-and-so because that pond is within the city limits!”
The Pleasanton Senior Center now stands on this site.
The Takens children (Bob, Bruce and Winnie), whose father founded and owned Meadowlark Diary, wrote: “…there were many life lessons too. Dad said something like, “There are two guys standing against a wall over there, and there’s a broom between them. Which one will you hire? You hire the guy who sees the broom and picks it up and starts sweeping. You don’t want the other one because you have to tell them what to do.” And he’d say, “Let that rotten sweat out, get that rotten sweat out of you,” or “If you’re cold, you should better get to work and work the chill out of you.”
The city preserved the adobe diary on Foothill Road, where the original diary operated as a drive-thru facility. The cows grazed in the field that is now the Laguna Oaks subdivision. The family brought the cattle to the Tracy area and opened the ever-popular Neal Street drive-thru with its famous soft serve.
Chief Walt McCloud’s squad car
As I look through the names, I think of the Edgren dealership that is now the strip center that houses Vic’s, or longtime high school principal Neal Sweeney, or the Georgis family and my classmate Jacki Fiorio Del Duco, whose father owned the Market and butcher ran business (he looked after much of the cattle sold at the county fair) which is now Valley Plumbing Supply on Neal Street.
There’s Ray and Angie Calija, and the Jorgensens (Andy, retired artistic director of Pleasanton and Tom) and Hal Shanks, son of Dr. Harold Shanks who was our GP with a practice that is now an art studio.
For those who want to learn more about the families that helped create the Pleasanton we see today, check it out.
The book is available for pre-order at the Towne Center, and an opening reception is scheduled for May 7 from 3:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. at Veteran’s Hall. Once the printing costs are covered, proceeds from the book go to Amador Valley High’s journalism program.
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