Small-school fairs build community ties
by Jon Mendelson
Sep 14, 2012 | 3065 views | 1 1 comments | 6 6 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Fall festival prep
Jesus Calderon (left) and Abel Campos add a light fixture to the tent framework as they assemble the booths on Tuesday, Sept. 11 at St. Bernard’s Catholic School for their annual Fall Festival this weekend.  Glenn Moore/Tracy Press
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The scent of cinnamon, sugar and butter swirled around Leanna Granillo in the St. Bernard’s Catholic School and Church kitchen Tuesday, Sept. 11.

Though the start of the parish’s annual three-day festival was three days away, Granillo was in her second week of mixing dough, rolling cookies and baking bread. She has been a festival volunteer since 1986, when her daughter attended the school.

Now, her daughter teaches there, Granillo said.

Granillo, 53, was in the kitchen with four other women, including her 69-year-old mother, Donna Silveira, who held Granillo’s 5-month-old granddaughter. Silveira has volunteered at the festival since 1966, when Granillo was a student.

As if four generations weren’t enough, Silveira said five generations of the family were at the school together the day before — an example of how the St. Bernard’s celebration brings together the tight-knit community that has grown around the church and school.

“That’s what makes it special for everyone,” Silveira said.

The festival begins Friday, Sept. 14, and runs through Sunday, Sept. 16, the first of several seasonal celebrations in and around Tracy.

On Tuesday, the kitchen was in full swing as white canopies sprang up in the schoolyard.

According to co-chairwoman Gina Rosenow, a 26-year veteran of the celebration, the annual event has improved and grown over the years.

“It’s taken years, but we’ve got it down to what works,” said the 62-year-old. “I’m really proud of what we’ve accomplished.”

But while professionally raised tents have replaced plywood-and-chicken wire constructions, much remains the same, Rosenow said. Eighth-graders still stock the booths before the festival begins, and parishioners, parents and former students flock to help when setup begins in earnest.

“It’s a nice feeling to have everyone come down,” she said.

But the St. Bernard’s fair is far from the only local harvest-time shindig that has engendered deep community ties.

New Jerusalem School District, which has scheduled its fall carnival from 1 to 6 p.m. Oct. 13, has been a social hub for the rural area southeast of Tracy for more than 50 years, according to Chris Patterson, the president of the Parent-Teacher Club.

“It really brings the community together,” Patterson said. “We still have farmers that donate to our carnival … and they don’t have kids there anymore.”

This year’s carnival will feature a carnitas dinner, a live blues band, a country store with specialty cakes and goodies, games for kids, a jump house and the ever-popular dunk tank.

The event raises money for special activities at New Jerusalem School and helps send classes on field trips, buy sports equipment, provide arts education and even supply the library.

Patterson, who said she has lived in the area for more than a decade and has helped plan the festival for about 10 years, said it couldn’t happen without widespread dedication.

“We have a wonderful group of moms that help put this together, and the teachers,” she said. “We’d like to see a lot of people from town come in and enjoy the event.”

Banta School, a kindergarten-through-eighth-grade school in a rural area northeast of Tracy, will host its annual fall extravaganza the weekend before New Jerusalem’s, from 1 to 7 p.m. Oct. 6.

The Banta Hay Day is set for its 21st edition, according to co-chair Kristen Correia.

The 41-year-old Correia has been involved with the festival for six years, mostly because of her daughter, who attends sixth grade at Banta School. But for Correia, who graduated from Banta School along with her father, the ties to the community run deep.

She added that local families and farmers who don’t even have children at Banta School participate in the festival, donating time, effort and items for the annual live auction. Correia said that dedication “definitely” stems from the sense of rural Tracy as a small, tight-knit community.

“We will see very loyal members of the community,” Correia said of this year’s Hay Day.

The celebration at Banta School includes game booths by individual classes; food; a petting zoo; a tri-tip dinner; and a popular event for kids to smash up a car donated by the California Highway Patrol.

Correia said the Hay Day is the school’s main fundraiser and helps pay for sports equipment, field trips, graduation caps and gowns and part of the sixth-graders’ science camp costs. But it’s also a chance to have fun.

To the west in Mountain House, a newer fall festival is building its own traditions.

According to Natalie Lancer, co-chair of this year’s Wicklund-Bethany School Carnival, what started as a parent-teacher fundraiser for Wicklund has grown into a community touchstone.

“I definitely have seen a lot of growth,” said the 39-year-old, who has lived in Mountain House “about three years” and has a son who attends Bethany School.

She said this year’s Oct. 13 carnival is a true small-town event.

“I think what’s always great about it, is it’s one of those days you see everybody you know or haven’t seen,” Lancer said. “It’s kind of where you meet people, and it’s grown a lot. We always try to incorporate something new each year.”

This year’s event features a photo booth, she said, as well as a cake walk, local on-stage entertainment, game booths, a jail-and-bail fundraiser, splash zone and haunted house.

Money raised by the event will help Wicklund and Bethany schools buy extra equipment for students and teachers.

The biggest of the local festivals is the San Joaquin County Fair, which opens Thursday, Sept. 20, and runs until Sept. 30 in Stockton. (See Page 8 for more).

But the fall celebration season kicks off with the three-day party at St. Bernard’s.

Watching the tents go up on the school’s blacktop Tuesday, Rosenow said yearly festivals create the type of community that makes a school — and a city — special.

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September 14, 2012
Anyone who has been involved in the festival know that it wouldn't be what it is without Gina, Chuck, and Connie. They are the heart of it all. And because it can never be said enough, thank you for all you do. You are a testament to our faith, and to the warmth of the Tracy community. You are truly appreciated!!!

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