Dr. Bill Atwood

14,000 days in Eastern Madera County

A look down Highway 41 in Oakhurst iin 2014 shows a vibrant business district.
A look down Highway 41 in Oakhurst iin 2014 shows a vibrant business district. Fresno Bee file

This Monday, April 8, is a special day for me. That day will mark my 14,000th day as a resident of Eastern Madera County. To be sure, my priest, Rev. Gordon Kamai, kids me that I keep track of such weird dates and numbers so you are not alone thinking I am odd for observing such an occasion.

When I realized that this date was on the horizon it started my thinking about how this community has changed and how it has remained the same. When I arrived, the Old Mill Von’s shopping Center was an old mill and the lumber industry was beginning to shut down in the area due to environmental regulations. Raley’s shopping center was a meadow and there wasn’t a traffic signal this side of Fresno.

When we shopped, it was at Midway Market which burned down a number of years ago having been abandoned. The local druggist was Fred Topham who was assisted by his bride Anne at Topham Drugs. It was an old-fashioned drug store with all sorts of items on sale. Many a kid bought mom or dad a present in the store. Doug Mallouf and his wife Jackie took over that store when Fred retired.

The names of the movers and shakers changed over the years. When I first arrived on the scene Ed Bates was Sheriff. Only a few years earlier he had handled the Chowchilla bus kidnap case. Don Darnell was our Supervisor and there were people in the local area who worked to improve this area. Gary and Mary Pence were helping to get the local park funded privately along with many others such as the MacCaulley’s.

There weren’t any lights on the YHS field for football games until Joe Geibel used his connections at PG&E to help set the poles and the lights have been shining ever since.

The Guyetts’ ran the Sear’s Catalog Store with old-fashion great service and there was a Montgomery Wards store as well. UPS delivery once a week!

The Melodrama was a huge hit in those days with Buzz Baxter and J.R. Frolich trading off the role of villain with each show. Bernie Dent and Shirley McClannahan helped lead the Grub Gulch Grannies with their hilarious dance routines.

Places such as Holiday Village or Danny’s Red Devil Pizza (now Pizza Factory) were popular eateries at night. Where Subway now sells sandwiches stood Bigfoot Hamburgers and Katie’s Country Kitchen was the A&W Root Beer place. The Forks was the Forks and Miller’s was McDougal’s back then. No Taco Bell, McDonald’s, Burger King, or Jack in the Box!

This is a vibrant community because it evolves as growth and needs require. The people change but the character doesn’t. There are now new faces that have taken the places of those who served as volunteers so many years ago. Sherry Colgate and Sandy Brinley have has stepped aside from their many duties to allow others to volunteer.

The names have changed and there are more buildings lining the highway than were here when I arrived in 1980. I remember hearing from the “old-timers” back then telling how much bigger the town had grown since the 1940s and 50s. They would really be stunned today.

The message is clear that this area will remain the same even as it changes because the people are the true treasure. We all contribute toward the community while we are its stewards and then we hand it off to the next generation of residents. The past 14,000 days were great but our best days are still ahead of us.