As temperatures climbed during the mid-morning, organizers realized that having the program outdoors in front of the main entrance of the two-story building, as originally planned, would be a disaster. Hurriedly, the event was moved indoors — into the foyer of the two-story building.
Tracy High Principal Jason Noll, who served as master of ceremonies, set the tone with his opening comments: “Morning, noon and night, weekdays and weekends, he has worked tirelessly for our schools and our community — a dedicated champion of public education.”
Noll, of course, was speaking of Jim Franco.
When he responded later in the program, Franco called Denise Wakefield, retired director of facilities planning, to the podium to share some of the limelight.
Jim and Denise made quite an effective team getting the Measure E school bond passed in 2006 and using the funds to leverage state money for the construction of what is now the Franco building — with the façade of the 1917 original Tracy High building.
The same financing package later paid for the new single-story cafeteria-music building and two-story library-classroom building.
At the dedication, I happened to be standing next to a guy in a coat and tie who seemed to recognize my name. He turned out to be Kevin Arwood, who was the lead architect in designing the Franco Building for the Sacramento architectural firm of Rainforth Grau.
He asked me how the people of Tracy like the building. My reply: “They really like it; they think it’s wonderful.”
I think I made his day.
As we all should know, timing is an all-important factor in the success of any enterprise.
Jim Franco and Denise Wakefield had their timing down when they pushed for the $50 million Measure E bond in 2006, which was approved by voters, who had rejected an earlier, more complicated and less understood bond measure. Getting local funding and state bond money today would be hard to accomplish.
Denise has retired and now lives in the Sierra foothills of Butte County, where, to no one’s surprise, she is busy in a host of activities. Bonny Carter succeeded her as director of facilities and planning and shepherded the completion of projects at Tracy and West highs and the building of Kimball High.
With the completion of the Tracy and West high projects with Measure E and state bond funds and the construction of Kimball High with developer fees, Tracy’s high school facilities are first class — hard to beat for a town of any size.
World War II revisited
Among those at the Franco Building dedication was Jamie Mousalimas, a former school district administrator who is now assistant superintendent of the San Joaquin County Office of Education.
Jamie, who still lives in Tracy, was talking to Bill Swenson about an article in Bay Area newspapers about his dad, World War II veteran Andrew Mousalimas.
It’s quite a story. The senior Mousalimas grew up in Oakland’s Greek community and volunteered during World War II to be a member of the U.S. Army’s Greek-American Operational Group of the 122nd Infantry Battalion.
The group participated in an attack on German forces on the island of Solta in Croatia in March 1944. During the fighting, Mousalimas helped capture six German soldiers. The German garrison surrendered within a few days.
Later, Mousalimas and his fellow Greek-American soldiers parachuted into the mountains of Macedonia in August 1944 to help Greek resistance fighters. Their knowledge of the Greek language and culture was vital to the success of the mission.
A retired Oakland tavern owner, Mousalimas is now speaking about his wartime experiences, most recently at the restored USS Hornet carrier docked at Alameda.
Perhaps Jamie can get his dad to come to Tracy sometime soon to give us a firsthand report of his WWII exploits.
It seems, to me at least, that the Greek-American Operational Group was one of the Army units of soldiers with special ethnic backgrounds and language skills that in the years following World War II formed the nucleus of the Army’s Special Forces.
• Sam Matthews, Tracy Press
publisher emeritus, can be reached at 830-4234 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.