Tracing Tracy Territory: Good fortune of McHenry House
by Sam Matthews
Apr 26, 2013 | 3090 views | 0 0 comments | 240 240 recommendations | email to a friend | print
A fortunate confluence of circumstances led to the opening of McHenry House Tracy Family Shelter a quarter-century ago.

In early fall 1986, Burton and Barbara Fitzpatrick were selling their vintage two-story home at the corner of Ninth and A streets.

At the same time, the Rev. Stanford Davis was looking for what he called “an emergency house” for the homeless in Tracy.

Stan, who was about to retire as pastor of the First Presbyterian Church, had charged a ministerial intern, Hanna Toomey, to research what was needed to open a shelter for the homeless — but still he no home.

Burt and Stan often met for coffee as participants in the mid-morning Tracy Inn Coffee Shop Kaffee Klatch organized (an officiated over) by Joe Wilson, Tracy’s recreation director.

One morning, Burt was telling Stan about his effort to sell the 3,000-squre-foot house, which was built in 1910 and required a lot of maintenance. It did, however, have six bedrooms.

After an initial sale of the house — named the Rice House for Maj. B.F. Rice, who bought it in 1915 — the Fitzpatricks had to take it back. Stan, in turn, told of his search for a house for the homeless.

Stan, who died recently, wrote in a 2002 Tracy Press article:

“After some discussion, it was decided that we might look at it (the Fitzpatrick house) for a house for the homeless. He (Burt) was very open to the idea and was very sure that Barbara would go along with it.”

Barbara did.

After several other pieces of property were weighed and found wanting, a deal was made with the Fitzpatricks in 1987, Stan wrote.

A few days ago, Barbara, who is still active with McHenry House, recalled making the decision to sell the house.

“We knew we were taking a chance, but felt it was worth it,” she recalled. “We had the house and adjacent eight-unit Douglas Arms apartments appraised for $450,000. We donated $100,000 in equity to make the price $350,000 in order to cut the amount of down payment needed to make a mortgage loan.”

Stan enlarged his board of directors, which decided to name the facility after Margaret McHenry, who single-handedly conducted emergency relief in Tracy for several decades.

Among the new directors were Judge Frank and Bette Grande. Bette volunteered to become the fundraising chairwoman in charge of raising $100,000.

“I had never done anything like this, but I decided to give it a try,” she recalled this week. “I had a gathering at my home, and I can still remember that Don Cose offered the first donation of $1,000 — and by the end of the evening we had $21,000 in pledges.”

Bette and members of her committee contacted individuals, business owners and city, county and state officials to reach the $100,000 goal.

With a last-minute boost by the city of Tracy and interim loan from Cose, the goal was reached just before the deadline.

Bette, by that time, was the second president of the board. Luella Geahry was named the first director, and together she and the board worked with local clubs to furnish and decorate client rooms.

McHenry House became a reality in April 1988.

Generosity toward McHenry House is still part of the community, as Bette found this week when she went to the local Goodwill store to buy some toys for house.

“A woman came up to me when she heard what I wanted the toys for, and said, ‘I had a very abusive relationship and needed a place for me and my two kids. I found that safe haven at McHenry house. And they helped me get my own place and a job.’”

The woman continued:

“‘Thank you so much. McHenry House saved us. I’ll never forget what it did for our family. I’ll never forget.’”

Bette said, “I’ve always known that going after that money and helping get McHenry House open was the right thing to do. But when I heard from that woman, it reminded me again. I felt 15 feet tall.”

Will the festival move?

Stockton will stage its 28th annual Stockton Asparagus Festival this weekend. The weather looks great, and festival offerings are plentiful, but a cloud of uncertainty hangs over the event.

The new wrinkle revolves around this question: Will the festival return next year to its present location in central Stockton or be forced to locate elsewhere?

Tracyite C.P. Riddle and Marc Marchini of Union Island are both on the festival’s board of directors, and they’ll have to help make a decision on the fest’s future location in the next couple of months.

C.P., the retired National Guard colonel with whom I have shared numerous cups of coffee at Barista’s in recent years, has been telling me of the very real possibility of a move.

“Our five-year contract with the city of Stockton is up this year, but we haven’t been able to talk to anyone at the city to discuss a new contract,” he said. “It’s really frustrating.”

Instead, city officials have mentioned the possibility of asking a major increase of the close to $100,000 a year the festival now pays the city for a variety of services. The city’s bankruptcy filing is a major factor behind all of this.

“If the price the city wants goes too high, then we will have nothing left to pay volunteers and nonprofit organizations,” C.P. said. “It’s as simple as that.”

He noted that the University of the Pacific has estimated the festival brings some $19 million to Stockton annually.

“The festival is the most-positive publicity Stockton receives each year, he declared. “And Stockton needs all the positive publicity it can muster.

If not downtown, where?

The San Joaquin County Fairgrounds are the most logical location, he said. But that venue, although sporting some great facilities, is located on Stockton’s south edge off Charter Way.

Staying downtown at its unique waterfront location is obviously the best spot for the festival to benefit all parties: the non profit organizations, the city, asparagus growers — and the thousands of people who throng there each year.

• Sam Matthews, Tracy Press publisher emeritus, can be reached at 830-4234 at
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