‘Old Timers of Santa Maria’ organized over dinner in 1923

89th annual Pioneer Picnic

This year’s picnic is slated for Saturday, July 13, at Pioneer Park on west Foster Road.  For information, call Jane at 937-4405, Karen at 922-9295 or email the Santa Maria Pioneer Association at tsmvpa@gmail.com.

The Pioneer Association, originally named “The Old Timers of Santa Maria,” was organized at a dinner meeting in the old Bradley Hotel on July 14, 1923.

Dr. W. T. Lucas served as temporary chairman and C. W. Smith acted as secretary until Fremont Twitchell was voted in as permanent chairman, and Harry Saulsbury, as secretary. The “chair” then appointed W. H. Rice, William Tunnell and C. W. Smith to the executive board.

During the course of the meeting, when the question came up as to the requirements of membership, it was voted that anyone who had come to the Valley prior to 1890 (it was later changed to 30 years) would be eligible for membership, with the “Valley” including Sisquoc, Garey, Casmalia, Guadalupe and Santa Maria.

Those present at the historical meeting included William H. Tunnell — who arrived in the area now known as Santa Maria in 1868; William C. Adam and W. R. Oakley arrived in 1869; C. W. Smith came in 1871; W. J. Brown, S. T. Coiner and William H. Rice in 1873; W. L. Smith in 1876; Harry Saulsbury in 1877; Judge S. E. Crow and Fremont Twitchell in 1878; Doctor William T. Lucas in 1879; James Letora in 1880 and A. L. Ames in 1883.

The following year, in addition to Charles Smith’s proposal that cards be mailed out to the valley’s prospective members, the group worked on perfecting the bylaws. It was also moved by William Oakley, and carried, that the annual meeting would be held on May 1 of every year on the Alamo Creek (near the Alamo Bridge on Suey Ranch) and the food would consist of basket lunches.  Before the meeting ended, it was proposed that each member ante up $1 to defray the expenses to date.

According to Elizabeth (Oakley) May, because of a hoof and mouth epidemic sweeping the state, the picnic scheduled for 1925 was postponed until the following year.

In 1926 the picnic was held at Pioneer Park, part of the Suey Ranch leased from the Newhall Land and Farm Company as a county park, and located about 13 miles up on the Cuyama Highway. William Rice was elected president. The park provided pits, tables and a dance floor.

In honor of the first Pioneer picnic, all businesses and schools in Santa Maria were closed while more than 100 people brought their basket lunches.  That night a party was held in Princess Hall where Campbell, Stockton, Rojas and Simas provided the dance music.

By 1941, when the picnic date interfered with the opening of fishing season, park owners objected to campers at the park, and schools no longer closed to allow the students to attend the picnic, the date was changed to the first Saturday in May, and Waller Park became the site of the event for many years. The picnic date was later changed to, and still remains, the second Saturday in July.

The first actual barbecue appears to have taken place in 1929 when Fremont Twitchell, W. H. Rice and Joe Calderon were in charge of the barbecue pit. A dance was also held that night in Sisquoc where a Mr. Davis donated his hall for the event.

Even though the picnic was rained out in 1938, Pioneers rose to the task and held their party the following day in the high school gym.

On Saturday, May 4, 1946, the year after World War II ended, Pioneers got together at Waller Park, both in celebration of the day and grateful that the war had ended.

Old friends, whose ancestors had come to Santa Maria prior to 1916, came early and stayed late, with everyone having a story or two about days gone by. They showed pictures and often laughed until they cried.  So goes the story of old friends getting together again at the annual Pioneer Picnic.

The 1946 picnic opened with the audience singing the first verse of “America.” Echoes of “Let Freedom Ring” were still in the air when the Reverend Barrett of the Presbyterian Church stepped forward to give the invocation.

President Audel Davis made the introductory remarks and introduced some of the past presidents: W. H. Rice (1925-1926); A. F. Black (1935-1936); Dr. Leland Smith (1942-1943) and Walter Stokes (1944-1945). Other former presidents at the event included Manuel Bello, Frank May, John Fesler, Leonald Adam, Gaylord Jones, Lou Drumm and Jack Glines.

A community sing-a-long was led by Flora Willman, accompanied at the piano by Mrs. Ray Baker.

The young Pioneers, under the direction of Elizabeth May, performed two square dances. Those taking part in the dancing included Jeanette Word, Linda Gale Jones, Rachel Delk, Bernice Fairchild, Janet Ritchie, Audel Davis, Richard Stephan, Richard Hansen, Kim Fraser and Eric Hansen.  Additional entertainment was provided by Edna Clark, Keith McNeil and Howard Wisel.

Vice President Raymond Strong then introduced the guest speaker, Attorney Morris Stephan, who spoke about the history of the Valley.  After Stephan’s talk, nominations took place for officers during the coming year. Raymond Strong was nominated to take the job of president, and Ida Hawkins received the nod to serve as vice president. The office of recording secretary was postponed to a later meeting.

Those who lived outside the area and attended the occasion included Mr. and Mrs. W. T. Rice (Santa Cruz); Mrs. Frances Ontiveros (Hollywood); Fred Layman (Lodi); Mr. and Mrs. Harold Philbrick (San Jose); Tom McCroskey (Santa Barbara); Emmett Trott and his sister Esther Daniels (Solvang); Isabelle DuBois (El Centro); Mr. and Mrs. Willard McNeil (Ventura); Edna Calhan (San Francisco); Mrs. George P. Merritt (Santa Barbara); Mae Twitchell Coffin (Santa Barbara); Elizabeth Howerton (Santa Barbara); Ellen Elliott (Los Angeles); Mrs. Mary Taylor (Long Beach); Mr. and Mrs. Art Leahy and sons (Altadena); Douglas Smith (Santa Barbara); William H. Langlois (Los Angeles); Lee Martin (Santa Ynez); C. L. Davis (San Luis Obispo); Mrs. Mary Martin (Santa Barbara); Mrs. Gertrude Cawelti and son, Wilfred (Cuyama); Mrs. T. H. Martin and Mrs. W. T. Martin (Lompoc); Estelle Hobbs, (Orcutt); Mr. and Mrs. Gene Davis and daughters Elinor and Millicent (Long Beach); Mrs. Louise Willman (Berkeley), accompanied by Henry Willman and Mrs. E. A. Newlove. Mrs. Ida M. Stephan and Miss Frances Stephan (Gardena).

The barbecue began at noon. Old friends visited all afternoon and then attended the old time dance with $1.50 admission per couple, at the High School gymnasium that evening. The traditional grand March, led by president and Mrs. Audel Davis, began at 10 p.m.  And so went another fun day 67 years ago at the Santa Maria Pioneer Picnic.

As to “Pioneer Park,” Pauline Lownes Novo, past president of the Association, first brought up the idea of the group having its own park, but no action was taken until 1990 when Jim May, a fourth-generation pioneer, took up the challenge of finding a suitable site.

The group narrowed its interest to a six-acre parcel of land at the southeast corner of south Blosser and west Foster Road, property owned by the Santa Maria Airport District. After a few years of much diplomacy and “potlicking,” a contract to lease the property from the Airport Board was sealed in August of 1994, and the first year’s lease payment was made in the amount of $84.50.

An agreement was made with the city that the park development would be taken care of by the Pioneer Association and the park would be rented out by the city’s Parks and Recreation.

Many Pioneer volunteers began the manual labor of removing the poison oak, installing sewer and water lines, building the barbecue pit and the cementing around the pit as well as constructing picnic tables for the grand opening barbecue.

Local history was made on July 13, 1996 when the Santa Maria Pioneers dedicated their new Pioneer Park during the 72nd annual picnic. A crowd of more than 1,000 Pioneers, including many of those who volunteered their time, muscle and materials, participated in helping to make this event a huge success.

The Pioneer Picnic remains a fun-filled party in Santa Maria, with people coming in from all parts of the western states to greet old friends. Each year brings memories that will last a lifetime.

Note: This year’s Pioneer Picnic will be held at Pioneer Park on west Foster Road on Saturday, July 13, 2013.

For more information regarding both the picnic and Pioneer Association membership, contact Jane at 937-4405, Karen at 922-9295 or email the Santa Maria Pioneer Association at tsmvpa@gmail.com.


June 30, 2013 12:00 a.m.  •  Shirley Contreras/The Heart of the Valley